Educators in West Michigan are tackling third grade reading proficiency by pooling their resources to form the Reading Now Network Initiative. And a recently conducted field team study suggests that intensive efforts are paying off.
Reading proficiency is also getting attention from Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who has called for new efforts to boost reading outcomes.
West Michigan’s Efforts
Launched last year, Reading Now is “the collective effort of superintendents, school boards, [and] local and intermediate school districts throughout West Michigan to improve early literacy and, ultimately, student achievement across all grade levels,” according to a fact sheet.
“Statewide, about a third of students fall short of reading proficiency measures in third grade,” the fact sheet says. “Our region’s data is very similar to that of the state as a whole, so we currently have about 67 percent of 3rd graders reading at grade level. Our goal is 80 percent and higher when possible.”
A key strategy is to study and share the methods that work best.
“The story of education is that there are pockets of great performance everywhere but they are not being replicated. There are characteristics we can identify from the findings that can be transferred,” Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent for Kent Intermediate School District, said in an MLive.com news story.
Field Team Study Findings
Part of Reading Now’s efforts include sending an eight-member field study team to look at successful reading efforts in five local schools “ranging in size from 280 to 7,215 students,” with “varying poverty levels” in “urban, rural and suburban buildings,” according to MLive.com.
“The field study team interviewed the principals and staff, conducted building and classroom observations and did instructional rounds and data processing.”
The study team found common themes among the schools, MLive.com reports, including:
• an “uncompromising focus” on reading
• data on reading that “drives leadership, staff, and students: Everybody knows where they are and where they are going.”
• principals who define the “goals, priorities and parameters,” and teachers who determine “how” to achieve these goals, and,
• sustained commitment and follow-through
Educators plan to duplicate these efforts in other schools. And intervention strategies will be used for children who need more help with reading proficiency.
“In addition, the network will work on kindergarten readiness, 8th grade math proficiency and career and college readiness.”
The Role of State Leadership
“One of the important metrics in someone’s life on the River of Opportunity is the ability to be proficient [in] reading by 3rd grade,” Michigan’s Governor Snyder said earlier this year in his State of the State Address.
In his 2016 budget proposal, Snyder called for a $48 million investment that would “increase home visits, emphasize parental involvement, have more diagnostic testing, pay for more teacher professional development, and allow more time for instructional hours and resources. It also comes with a huge investment in pre-kindergarten schooling which dovetails with Snyder’s desire to educate students and parents from before kids are born through third grade,” MLive.com reported earlier this month.
“Of the $48 million in funding for the proposal, $25 million will come from the state with the rest being paid for through federal dollars.”
“As a part of the third-grade reading initiative, the state would want to assess new kindergartners to, as Snyder tells it, make sure the state is getting a return on that investment.”
Snyder is also calling for “the establishment of a commission outside of state government which includes business and philanthropic communities, and will develop recommendations on specific actions to improve third-grade reading scores.”
As Snyder says in a video celebrating March is Reading Month, “As Governor, I have put a particular emphasis on improving our children’s reading levels by the third grade. That means encouraging children at the earliest stages to discover a love for reading. Promoting reading to our children early on can help them develop strong reading skills that are critical to long-term success.”