A focus on reading proficiency is gaining momentum as scores are slipping among students in early grades due to poverty and other social reasons.
In Schenectady, New York, the challenge is particularly acute. Students enter kindergarten with reading skills far below norms and expectations. Poverty exacerbates the situation. In recent years, district officials have expanded the amount of time dedicated to reading. Community partnerships have also been established to increase the literacy resources available to students, and instruction has been standardized for the younger grades.
In addition, hundreds of read-alouds are done each day in classrooms and in homes, all with the intent to promote literacy and encourage reading.
Only 18 percent of students in grades three through eight in Schenectady scored proficient on New York State English language arts tests last year. The statewide figure was 38 percent of student scored proficient. Over half the registered students in the district registered the lowest possible score.
In 2013, a group of researchers from Stanford University found that disparities in literacy among children due to socioeconomic circumstances begin as early as 18 months.
“By the time they enter kindergarten, children from disadvantaged backgrounds differ substantially from their more advantaged peers in verbal and other cognitive abilities, disparities that are predictive of later academic success or failure,” the Stanford researchers wrote.
The researchers also found that among two year olds, the gap between wealthy and low income children in language development and processing skills is six months.