The Connecticut Commission on Children
The Connecticut Commission on Children
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Reading Excellence and the Achievement Gap

Forum held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, March 20, 2013

Sponsored by the Black & Puerto Rican Caucus of the Connecticut General Assembly, the Connecticut Achievement Gap Task Force, and the Commission on Children.

Lisa Farrington, a reading interventionist at the Burns Latino Studies Academy in Hartford, talks about the improvements she's seen in students who receive reading instruction under the alternative system being tried in her school. Looking on at left is Edward Orszulak, principal of the Norris School in East Hartford. More photos

CT-N video | Meeting documents | More resources | Photos

Overview

As part of its sweeping education reforms, the General Assembly last year created a pilot program to test whether a combination of alternative assessments, intensive teacher training, parent engagement, and classroom mentoring would make a significant difference in the reading proficiency of children in Connecticut’s lowest-performing schools.

The early data, presented recently at a Legislative Office Building forum co-sponsored by the Commission on Children, the legislature’s Black & Puerto Rican Caucus, and the Achievement Gap Task Force, indicates the program is on the right track.

For Connecticut, making improvements in this arena is especially urgent, since it consistently finds itself ranked as the state with the nation’s widest achievement gap in reading. Results of the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) reveal vast differences in performance between low-to-moderate income children and middle-class children. Similarly, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test shows white students significantly outperforming black and Hispanic students. In fact, 75 percent of Connecticut’s African-American and Hispanic students are not reading at goal; 55 percent are not reading at proficiency.

A child who cannot read by the end of the first grade has only a 1-in-8 chance of ever becoming a proficient reader. Meanwhile, the odds of him dropping out of school, enduring unemployment or underemployment, or serving jail time all jump significantly. That, in turn, means everyone pays a price. The economy never benefits from his full earning potential, but the burden on government services grows.

The problem becomes all the more frustrating amid evidence that 95 percent of all children can be taught to read. So why aren’t all Connecticut children reading? The pilot program is built on the premise that much of the problem centers on the way we teach children to read. That does not mean blaming teachers. Rather, it means addressing failures in their training. Simply put, not all colleges and universities instruct our future teachers on the latest, scientifically-proven methods of reading instruction. Similarly, not all of the teachers already working in kindergarten-through-Grade-3 classrooms get opportunities to acquire the research-based skills that would help them close the achievement gap.

For the pilot program, the state Department of Education chose 15 elementary schools in five towns: Norwalk, Naugatuck, Bristol, West Haven, and Waterbury. Students experiencing the most significant reading difficulties began to receive intensive, evidence-based interventions in small group settings. The provisions also included:

The early results, evaluated rigorously by the Center for Behavioral Education and Research at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, revealed statistically significant gains; in fact, literacy gains for kindergarteners began to surpass expectations after only two months.

At the LOB forum, principals and teachers from the participating schools unanimously praised the program, saying they witnessed improvement because the assessment tools helped them to identify student literacy gaps more quickly than the standard tools and to immediately take “next steps” for closing those gaps. Having coaches who modeled lessons in the classroom helped as well, they said. Meanwhile, parents were taught the science of the brain, how children learn to read, and how they can partner with the schools to improve their child’s literacy. The parent engagement, particularly by Hispanic parents, was exceptionally high and on-going, educators said.

CT-N video

If a video does not appear below, you may still watch it on the CT-N website, where you may also purchase DVDs. Running time: 2 hours, 43 minutes.

Meeting documents

More resources

Connecticut Achievement Gap Task Force

Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut

Literacy How

Photos

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it and read a caption.

achievement gap forum photo achievement gap forum photo achievement gap forum photo achievement gap forum photo

 

This document was last updated: December 3, 2013

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