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Supporting Young Readers

Send letters to the editor and local opinion pieces to william.laforme@patch.com.

The following is from State Sen. Katherine Clark:

Last week I joined Governor Patrick as he signed into law An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, which I sponsored in the Senate.  The signing ceremony took place right here in our district at the Robin Hood Elementary School in Stoneham.  It was a great event, and quite timely.

Earlier this month, the 2012 district and school MCAS scores were released.  The numbers reflected significant progress across the state, particularly in the upper grade levels, with     88 percent of 10th graders scoring proficient or above in English language arts (ELA) and 78 percent in mathematics. Those results, the highest in the history of the MCAS program, are something to be proud of and reflect the hard work of many students, parents, teachers and administrators.

But the numbers revealed something else as well: nearly 40 percent of third graders are reading at a level below proficiency.  And unfortunately, that percentage has remained relatively unchanged since 2001. 

This trend persists across the state, with the most alarming statistics coming from our lowest performing school districts.  Among children from low-income families, 60% lag in reading.  In more than 100 Massachusetts communities, more than half of third grade students are not reading at a proficient level.

Reading proficiency is closely linked to future academic success and positive economic outcomes.  A study commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that children who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade are four times less likely to finish high school by age 19.

Economists like Art Rolnick of the University of Minnesota have quantified the returns on investment in early education: boosting labor productivity, increasing tax revenue, and reducing by up to 50% costs associated with special education services and crime.  Indeed, the annual rate of return of up to 16% is higher than for many traditional economic development efforts.

The best programs, according to the research, are those that start early, focus on at-risk children, effectively engage and support parents, and include access to high-quality programs staffed by educators with advanced degrees.

That’s where this new law comes in.  The legislation was designed to provide support to school districts across the state looking for curriculum guidance, and to help ensure our children are prepared to succeed in school.  It will establish an Early Literacy Expert Panel to advise state agencies on research-based strategies to improve the language and literacy development of children from birth to age 9. 

Specifically, the panel will make recommendations in areas such as:  professional development and training for educators, assessment strategies, effective instructional practices to promote language and literacy development, family partnership strategies, and ways to implement research-based recommendations.

This bill had wide support from teachers, principals and parents, as well as from leading business groups and the medical community.  That makes sense, because ensuring that all children have the tools they need to succeed is a shared responsibility, and a great opportunity for us all.  

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