The key to suc­cess

Early lit­er­acy vi­tal for our kids

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - MELODY MOR­GAN Melody Mor­gan is direc­tor of ac­count­abil­ity and as­sess­ment at Spring­dale Pub­lic Schools.

One of the hard­est truths for ed­u­ca­tors in Arkansas to con­tend with is the fact that far too many of our chil­dren are be­ing left be­hind in school from an early age be­cause they can­not read well.

Ac­cord­ing to For­ward Arkansas, nearly seven out of 10 fourth-graders in our state are not pro­fi­cient in read­ing when they start the school year, plac­ing them at a tremen­dous dis­ad­van­tage aca­dem­i­cally and dim­ming their prospects for fu­ture suc­cess. Stu­dents who can’t read well by the start of fourth grade are more likely to strug­gle in the later grades and drop out of school.

Read­ing at grade level by the end of third grade is widely un­der­stood among re­searchers and ed­u­ca­tors to be a cru­cial de­vel­op­men­tal mile­stone for young stu­dents. The tran­si­tion from third to fourth grade rep­re­sents the point along their ed­u­ca­tional jour­ney when read­ing be­comes an es­sen­tial skill for mas­ter­ing other sub­jects—think word prob­lems in math class and con­tent-rich texts in so­cial stud­ies—and less of a sub­ject unto it­self. It is the time when learn­ing to read makes way for read­ing to learn.

There­fore, it is cru­cial for our schools to iden­tify strug­gling read­ers as early as pos­si­ble so that we can in­ter­vene ap­pro­pri­ately and give them the in­struc­tional sup­port they need.

In our dis­trict, Spring­dale Pub­lic Schools, we’re ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing teach­ers with real-time, ac­cu­rate and re­li­able data on their stu­dents to help in­form their in­struc­tion. Through­out the year teach­ers use data from the MAP Growth K-2 as­sess­ment to iden­tify ar­eas where stu­dents need ad­di­tional help to im­prove their read­ing. This en­ables them to tai­lor their in­struc­tion to their stu­dents’ in­di­vid­ual needs, whether they are strug­gling or suc­cess­ful read­ers.

We rec­og­nize that the K-2 grades are a crit­i­cal time for our stu­dents, es­pe­cially our large pop­u­la­tions of English lan­guage learn­ers and chil­dren from low-in­come fam­i­lies. With this in mind, we’ve es­tab­lished pro­mot­ing early lit­er­acy for all stu­dents as one of our fore­most pri­or­i­ties and pro­vide per­son­al­ized learn­ing for ev­ery K-2 stu­dent.

This grade range is when we be­gin to see achieve­ment gaps in read­ing open and then widen. It is also when we are best able to ad­dress those gaps and pro­vide the in­ter­ven­tions and per­son­al­ized learn­ing that en­able strug­gling read­ers to catch up and achieve grade-level pro­fi­ciency.

Re­cently, the Arkansas Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s Pre-Kin­der­garten Through Grade 2 As­sess­ment Task Force rec­om­mended that dis­tricts se­lect as­sess­ments ac­cord­ing to how use­ful they are for screen­ing stu­dents, in­form­ing in­struc­tion and bench­mark­ing growth. We’ve found that re­li­able and timely as­sess­ment data can make a key dif­fer­ence in en­sur­ing that stu­dents get the sup­port they need to be­come pro­fi­cient read­ers.

Em­brac­ing as­sess­ments as in­struc­tional tools, rather than ac­count­abil­ity mech­a­nisms, and max­i­miz­ing the po­ten­tial for data to in­form in­struc­tion will help all school lead­ers and teach­ers in our state bet­ter serve the stu­dents in their class­rooms.

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