“Ms. Brands, you have to ensure that my granddaughter does not follow the same path to incarceration as her parents. She struggles in school. She struggles to read.”
This plea from the grandmother of one of my new students caused me to question my ability to educate the minds of these children as well as encourage their spirits. At only twenty-one the decision to move from Portland, Oregon to teach at a small school on the west side of Tulsa, Oklahoma was producing more anxiety than the normal culture shock that accompanies learning a new culture in an unfamiliar part of the county. It was causing me to question my decision of committing to two years of teaching service.
Reading Partners is a national early literacy nonprofit organization that helps students move toward or achieve reading proficiency by helping them master key reading skills through data-informed, curriculum-driven, one-on-one tutoring. These pairs of student and tutors work for 45 minutes twice per week. The students range from kindergarten to third-graders, using an individualized reading plan based on regular student skill assessments. This individual attention plays a key role in dealing with the growing problem of reading proficiency.
According to the results of the 2014 Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT), only 44 percent of third graders in Tulsa Public Schools demonstrated proficiency in reading.
The problem is not just in Oklahoma. Across all 50 states, low-income youth are less likely to be reading proficiently than their higher-income peers. According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, commonly known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” 80% of low-income fourth graders and 66% of all fourth graders are not proficient in reading. In nearly every state, the gap between students from higher- and lower-income families has gotten worse, widening by almost 20 percent in the last decade (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2014).
The elementary grades are the foundation for later academic success. Youth who struggle to master foundational literacy skills experience an increasing and cumulative academic disadvantage. Research into literacy acquisition has found that children who do not master early literacy skills during the early stages of their cognitive development grow into increasingly less skilled readers than their peers, a phenomenon known as the Matthew Effect (Stanovich, 1986). A very common adage of school professionals puts it this way, “From Kindergarten to third grade children learn to read. From third grade on, they read to learn.”
After mastering foundational reading skills, third and fourth graders then focus on mastering more complex reading skills, and children begin to use reading to learn other subjects and so mastery of reading becomes a critical component of their ability to keep up academically. Students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012). Low educational attainment entrenches the cycle of poverty by diminishing future earning potential in the workplace; employees without a high school diploma earned a median income of $23,000 in 2011, 40% less than those workers with a bachelor’s degree (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).
By helping low-income elementary students read proficiently, Reading Partners ensures they have the skills necessary to be successful while simultaneously laying the groundwork for the future vibrancy of our communities.
Reading Partners works. MDRC, a leading independent research firm, conducted a study of Reading Partners’ program. Outcomes of this evaluation are overwhelmingly positive. The study found Reading Partners: (1) ensures quality-controlled, consistent program implementation and is replicated with high fidelity; (2) delivers high-impact, one-on-one reading instruction using a standardized curriculum that aligns with common core state standards; and (3) acts as a resource multiplier to deliver affordable, high-value resources to schools and students.
Our research-validated program shows dramatic results in student learning. After one year in the program, Reading Partners’ students in Tulsa on average tripled their rate of literacy proficiency. 97% of students increased their rates of literacy learning. 85% narrowed their literacy gap with peers who read on grade-level. With the support of over 1,600 community volunteers, Reading Partners will serve 1,000 students who are half a year to 2.5 years behind in literacy proficiency. There are many more who need the literacy interventions Reading Partners provides in complement with the hard work of the dedicated teachers in our public schools.
What drives me in this work every day is still the commitment that I made to that grandmother in my first days of teaching: “I will make sure your granddaughter can read.”
I believe it to be the same promise that our community has the responsibility to make to every young student.
Reading Partners in Tulsa and in all the communities we serve is paving the way to ensure reading proficiency becomes the norm – not the exception.
Elizabeth Brands Vereecke
Executive Director, Reading Partners Tulsa
Visit Reading Partners Tulsa. Click HERE.