New report reaches unsettling conclusion on Sacramento child literacy

A new report about literacy came to an unsettling conclusion about students in Sacramento County schools: about three out of every five third-graders do not read at their grade level.

The analysis also found that efforts to close the gap between high-performing schools and low-performing schools are falling short.

April Javist, executive director of the library foundation, said the organization wanted to know if high-need schools were increasing their literacy rate at the same pace as their peers in the county and state. The conclusion could help literacy providers make better decisions about where their efforts are most needed, she said.

“We just wanted to highlight where literacy providers are at because eventually, that’s the line that’s got to move the most,” Javist said. “That’s the line where we want to see the greater increase.”

While Sacramento County as a whole saw a 5 percent increase in the share of students proficient in language arts over a three-year period, the schools with active literacy programs saw a 3 percent improvement in proficiency.

The finding came from a report card released by the Sacramento County Library Foundation that showed there was little to celebrate. Schools with active literacy programs still lag behind other schools in reading and writing proficiency, and they are even farther behind the state average.

Third-graders in high-needs schools improved at a faster rate than the overall county, but still trailed their counterparts by 14 points.

The library foundation created a literacy map, which shows in stark detail the relationship between poverty and test scores — a method that is frequently used in education research. Researchers also identified where the closest literacy programs were to struggling schools.

The idea is that increased access will go a long way to alleviate the problem.

The local United Way has already answered the call, increasing its literacy programming from 12 schools to an anticipated 28 schools this school year, said Tom Bennett, vice president of community impact for the United Way Capital Region.

“It’s not something we didn’t know about. As we’ve dealt with some of our partner agencies and organizations we’ve come to know that there has a disparity gap among some our schools and communities,” Bennett said.

“That’s one of the reasons the United Way is in the areas that we’re focused on. We try to identify those communities that have a greater need. Most of the communities that we’re working in are schools that are Title I or set in a low-income community.”

The report card also compared rates of absenteeism, finding that students were out of school more often in Sacramento County than the rest of the state. The report also concluded that truancy increased by 5 percent in the county overall and in local high-need schools.

Local literacy advocates say the issues in the report have real-world implications that should persuade programs to redouble their efforts.

Studies have shown that that 26 hours of one-on-one time with an adult tutor can boost a student’s reading skills by a whole year, said Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin, a speech-language pathologist and professor at Sacramento State.

“The reality is, the more services the better. We can only close the gap by intensifying our efforts,” Roseberry-McKibbin said in an email. “This is so urgent because according to the One World Literacy Foundation, 78 percent of 4th graders who end 4th grade reading below grade level will end up in prison, on welfare, or both.”

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