An Honest Look at Literacy

It is no secret that I have publically criticized the educational system of Windsor for continuing to allow at least 20% of our students to remain underperforming in reading across assessments year after year. Whether we are looking at the DRA, DRP, MAP, STAR, CAPT, CMT, SBAC or any other number of educational alphabet soup acronyms that are used to measure student achievement, it is more than clear that there is a systemic gap in our approach to addressing the literacy needs of 1 out of 5 students.

Since beginning my tenure on the Board of Education, I have repeatedly asked what we can do to provide targeted interventions that are appropriately tailored to the unique instructional and developmental needs of our students so that they can move forward to achieve their full potential.

As I stated during the special meeting of October 14, 2014, “of those 30% of [high school] students [who enter the high school significantly behind in reading], how many of those students were potentially identified below level before 3rd grade?”

Over the past three years it has become blatantly apparent that when I ask direct questions about the significant number of students who are below standard in reading, I am met with a cautionary statement against relying on the tests used to assess achievement. This is attributed to the fact that every few years the assessment tools used to measure achievement are changed. For example, Windsor no longer uses MAP testing. However, just two years ago, the Windsor Board of Education received a comprehensive presentation on the use of MAP as the new and upcoming assessment for accurately measuring student achievement.

In addition, factors such as free and reduced lunch, the transient nature of our families, and even special education status have been used by fellow board members as limitations when we discuss student achievement. I am the first to state that these factors need to be considered when tailoring interventions because students are complex people who exists between multiple contexts.

However, looking back it really just felt like a ploy to distract from the facts, given that we don’t actually have meaningful conversations about how these factors are impacting our students. What we are left with, is a significant body of students who are not being afforded the opportunity to access the curriculum in a way that would enable them to perform at the expected level.

Take for example the fact that during the 13/14 school year 28.8% of students in 3rd grade were below standard on their MAP – Reading assessment, while this same 3rd grade class, just a year prior, had 29.8% of their students below standard. How much longer are we going to allow such a significant number of our students to begin their lives with such a deficit?

Consider that if just 20% of our most recent graduates from the class of 2015 left our school below grade level, we are sending just about 57 people into our community without a proper education. That is scary to me, and it should provide a catalyst for us to come together and have a honest conversations about what is happening in our district.

Given what I have shared with you in this post, you can only imagine what I must have felt like as I read through the Literacy Improvement Plan that was presented to us during the Curriculum Committee meeting yesterday evening. The Literacy Improvement Plan is a detailed document that described the history of literacy within our district over the past half-decade, an overview of where literacy stands today, the current delivery of instruction and personnel, a set of goals and an action plan, and even a series of recommendations. The document itself is clearly academically focused and research driven.

As I stated to Bonnie Fineman, the Director of Arts and Humanities for the Windsor Public School System, I nearly cried as I read through the document because I am so incredibly grateful to finally have someone understand that I’m not calling to question individuals’ commitment to addressing this issue, I’m simply attempting to begin an honest and open dialogue about the fact that we have a significant number of students who remain underperforming year after year in the area of reading.

I look forward to hearing more about the Literacy Improvement Plan at the upcoming February 17th Full Board Meeting. I am confident that the team that Ms. Fineman has put together will bring a level of openness on the issue of literacy that I personally have been waiting for since my election.

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