For second year in a row, early literacy efforts make strides
For the second year in a row, Iowa has made significant progress to improve the reading skills of students in kindergarten through third grade, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced today.
Speaking from Edmunds Elementary School in Des Moines, Reynolds said the share of students who met or surpassed the benchmarks Iowa uses to measure statewide progress on the screening assessment increased from 67 percent to 70 percent in public schools between fall 2016 and spring 2017. That 3 percentage-point growth hits the target the state has set for annual early literacy growth.
That builds on progress during the previous year when the share of public and nonpublic students meeting or exceeding benchmarks grew 4 percentage points. Nonpublic school results for the past year will be available soon.
Thomas Ahart, superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools – Iowa’s largest district – said the district experienced a 5.7 percent increase in students meeting benchmarks from last fall to this past spring. This means 580 more students are reading at or above benchmarks – despite an increase in students who historically lag behind academically, such as students who are economically disadvantaged and those whose native language is not English.
All told, the progress in the last two years translates to 14,000 Iowa students who went from missing reading benchmarks to meeting them. Being proficient in reading by the end of third grade is considered a critical milestone in a child’s education. Students falling short of reading proficiency by that time face an uphill battle with their education going forward, with many eventually dropping out. Still, nearly one in four students is not proficient in reading by the end of third grade.
Stagnant state and national test scores led Iowa in 2012 to adopt a major initiative to identify struggling readers starting in kindergarten and provide intensive intervention, Reynolds said.
“School districts and many nonpublic schools now screen students’ reading skills on an assessment given three times a year – in the fall, winter and spring,” she said. “Many outstanding educators across Iowa - like those here at Edmunds – have been working extraordinarily hard to use those results to improve instruction.”
Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise, who will visit the Emmetsburg Community School District later today marking his 101st district visit in two years, said he’s seen firsthand how districts are making a difference.
“Iowa’s schools – and the education system that supports them – have come together around several initiatives in the past six years with the goal of preparing Iowa students for success in high school and beyond,” he said.
The initiatives include:
- Strong academic standards that set clear and rigorous expectations for all students;
- The Teacher Leadership and Compensation system, which has provided a solid professional learning structure for our educators;
- A revamped approach to career and technical education that will expose students to careers early on and will prepare them with the skills they’ll need for success;
- A redesigned school accountability system that focuses attention and resources where and when schools need it most;
- And the early literacy initiative, which helps teachers identify and intervene with students in kindergarten through third grade who are not on track in reading.
“At the heart of Iowa’s literacy initiative is an early warning system designed to catch and address potential reading problems in children as early as kindergarten,” Wise said. “All 333 of Iowa’s school districts and many nonpublic schools use this early warning system to screen students in kindergarten through third grade three times a year, provide additional reading instruction to children identified at risk, and monitor the progress of students so they can get back on track.”
Reynolds said with school starting across Iowa, it’s an ideal time to emphasize the importance of preparing students for the knowledge economy.
“All students need to graduate from high school genuinely ready for college or career training, so they can pursue rewarding careers right here in our great state,” she said. “The Future Ready Iowa Alliance is developing recommendations to reach the goal of 70 percent of the workforce having education or training beyond high school by 2025.”