Need to read

The reading experts and government leaders on Wisconsin's "Read to Lead" task force are taking a close look at student reading achievement in Wisconsin schools. The meetings of the task force are open to the public; my "live tweeted" notes from the April 25, 2011 inaugural meeting are here:

A video archive of the first meeting can be viewed on WisconsinEye. The task force meets next on May 31, 2011, with teacher training and reading intervention on the agenda (via the Wisconsin Reading Coalition, whose founding member, Steve Dykstra, serves on the Read to Lead task force).

Although state and local reading scores are regularly reported as and when results are announced on the annual Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) and the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), what's often missing is the fuller context of how those scores compare with scores of other school districts and other states over time. Examine, for example, the percentages of Wisconsin 4th graders (disaggregated by selected demographic) that score "Below Basic" on the NAEP, compared with Massachusetts (currently "best of breed" among the states in student achievement on the NAEP) and Florida (which has made exemplary progress in improving achievement for low-income, Black and Hispanic students):

It's been telegraphed that Florida's reading reforms might serve as a model for recommendations to be considered by the task force, in particular ending automatic "social" promotion to the 4th grade for students who are not reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. (The recent Annie E. Casey Foundation study by Donald J. Hernandez linking poverty, low literacy by third grade, and failure to graduate, reinforces this concern.) The percentages of 3rd graders scoring below the WKCE "proficiency" level (bearing in mind that "Proficiency" on WKCE 4th grade reading maps to a level that is lower than "Basic" under NAEP [see page 17 at the link]), for the state's six urban school districts, disaggregated by selected demographic, are as follows:

The Read to Lead task force has done a creditable job of educating itself on the problem of reading achievement in our schools. I'd like to see that awareness spread to stakeholders and the public. While there seems to be a general, and somewhat uneasy, acknowledgment that things are not as they should be, all too often the discussion begins and ends with: 1. "It's just Milwaukee." and 2. "Poor/Black/Hispanic students can't learn." As we can see, the numbers show otherwise.

"We willl have to make an uncomfortable number of mistakes, and learn from them, rather than cover them up or deny they happened, even to ourselves. This is not the way we are used to getting things done." Tim Harford, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.
"As a profession, we are strongly discouraged from speaking out against the system. But I believe the greatest betrayal of our children is our silence." Katharine Birbalsingh, To Miss with Love.

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