How a person reads in the third grade could determine their success decades later.
This is the premise that Granite United Way, a nonprofit that invests in areas of the community with critical needs, discovered when it was trying to find one single issue that plays a role in a number of social issues.
“If you move one lever, how can you move other levers to get more bang for your buck?” said Meredith Stidham, associate vice president of measures and outcomes at Granite United Way.
In their research, Stidham and her colleague, Jodi Harper, the nonprofit’s director of literacy and BRING IT!!! Community Collaboration, found that while there’s no silver bullet, literacy is a big piece of what it means to be successful later in life.
Kids on track with reading are far more likely to graduate on time and less likely to use drugs. They are also better critical thinkers, more likely to land jobs that sustain their families as adults, and more likely to follow physicians’ advice, Stidham said. Those findings are in line with The Annie E. Casey 2012 report that stated about 16 percent of students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade do not graduate from high school on time.
For the past four years, the Manchester School District has been about 25 percent below the statewide average on NECAP test scores, said Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. Debra Livingston.
“One of the connections to literacy certainly is income, and district-wide we have 52 percent of our children living in low-income households,” Livingston said.
With a focus on greater Manchester, the Granite United Way paired up with the Morgridge College of Education in Denver in a dollar-for-dollar match to bring Reading Plus to New Hampshire.
Reading Plus is a software-based reading support system. Each third-grader gets an individual sign-on that follows him no matter where he logs on. The lesson a student starts on any given day is prepared for him based on how he performed during his last sign-on.
The program focuses on silent reading skills like left-right tracking, motor skills and reading comprehension. And thanks to the high-tech nature of the program, educators are able to receive highly individualized feedback about each student’s reading readiness.
A pilot program for the Manchester School District was introduced to one third-grade classroom at Smyth Road School in the fall of 2012. This year it has seen a major expansion, and Granite United Way has made an investment to work with 12,000 readers in the district and has spent a total of $90,000.
So far, so good
Data from the pilot year at Smyth Road School showed major increases in reading abilities. Students spent the second half of the school year using Reading Plus at least three times a week.
On average students improved their reading by two and a half levels. Every student began the program not ready for fourth grade (according to literacy standards), but by the end of the year 15 of the 21 kids were on target or ahead of where they needed to be for fourth grade. Every student in the class also improved by at least one grade level.
More plans in progress
The Manchester School Board has been working to establish goals for literacy, Livingston said. In addition to expanding the use of Reading Plus, those goals will include an increased focus on children up to 5 years old and developing interventions for children by reading specialists who can diagnose trouble areas and show teachers how to help them.
“I studied in Japan, and that was the first time I ever felt what it must be like to be unable to read because everywhere I went it was in Japanese,” Livingston said. “I was lost. I had no idea. I can’t imagine a child feeling that way and then growing up and still feeling that way.”
Livingston said she also hopes to help parents become aware of summer education options. During the summer there is a learning dip, especially for students in low-income homes, and they can lose some of the skills that they learned in the previous school year, she said. But children who visit the library in the summer start the next year at or above where they left off.
“Parents don’t always have the capacity to have kids in museums or have books in the home,” she said. “Part of educating children is showing parents resources.”
As seen in the January 30, 2014 issue of the Hippo.