Sponsored by the Black & Puerto Rican Caucus of the Connecticut General Assembly, the Connecticut Achievement Gap Task Force, and the Commission on Children.
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.
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.
Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it and read a caption.
This document was last updated: December 3, 2013