Lesaux: Massachusetts Third Graders Lag in ReadingBy admin
New findings by Harvard Graduate School of Education Associate Professor Nonie Lesaux released in a report today by Strategies for Children, Inc., revealed that 43 percent of Massachusetts third graders read below grade level, which may lead to continued struggles in high school and puts them at significant risk of not graduating or contributing to the state’s knowledge-based economy.
“As a state, we need a much more comprehensive approach — one that makes better use of our resources and that reflects the science of children’s early language and reading development,” Lesaux said. “What is particularly striking and problematic is that, statewide, the first time we find out how our readers are doing, is not until they are finishing third grade. For those who are struggling, this is much too late. It’s then a matter of trying to make up for lost time — and at that point, the odds are against them.”
According to the report, “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” commissioned by Strategies for Children, Inc., there is a limited period of time to prevent reading difficulties and promote reading achievement. Typically, this happens for most children between birth and age nine. By third grade, reading struggles are strongly linked to later school difficulties, as well as behavioral problems, depression, and dysfunctional and/or negative peer relationships. The report calls for targeted and intense interventions in program design, assessments, professional development, curriculum, and family engagement to make a difference in third-grade reading levels.
“We have spent a lot of money on reading, but it tends to be scattered. Spray and pray,” said Richard Weissbourd, a lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-founder of ReadBoston, who serves on the board of Strategies for Children. “We need to capture that energy with more in-depth and intensive work and carefully evaluate programs for effectiveness.”
In the report, Lesaux emphasizes that the problem affects children in cities and suburbs alike, particularly children of low-income families. Two-thirds of low-income third graders do not read at grade level compared with one-third of third graders who do not come from poor families. “We must pull our at-risk readers along and we must push all readers forward,” Lesaux writes.
The report prescribes providing children with the language-rich environments — in homes, community settings, early education programs, and schools — that create the foundation for reading. Noting that children’s vocabulary at age four predicts their reading comprehension in third grade and beyond, the report recommends starting ongoing, developmentally appropriate assessments of children’s language and literacy development well before they enter school. It presses for a twin focus on fluency in decoding words and reading comprehension, urges reading improvement programs to stress impact rather than the number of children served, and calls for strengthening professional development and linking improved training in language development and reading to classroom practice. It recommends bringing “language-rich, rigorous, and engaging” curricula into early education and primary grade classrooms.
The report complements “Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters,” a national report released last month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“Taken together, this report and the Casey report should compel us to action,” said Margaret Blood, founder and president of Strategies for Children. “Massachusetts has a long history of leading the nation in education reform, and we have an opportunity now to lead again in developing the competent readers our children’s future and our country’s future demand.”