5 Ways to Improve Literacy Among Massachusetts Students

A new report out of the Boston-based Strategies for Children called Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for School Success says that efforts to increase literacy and produce strong readers need to be stepped up for children birth through age 9. According to data on their website,  31% of third graders in Boston are proficient on the MCAS reading test–that’s a full 26% lower than the state average of 57%. Taking a deeper look, the study also shows that two-thirds of low-income students and one-third of students who are not poor do not read at grade level.

With third-grade reading level a critical predictor of later success, the report, written by Nonie Lesaux, PhD, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recommends five avenues for improvement:

  1. Reallocate funds and alter policy to ensure programs are delivered effectively and with sufficient intensity.
  2. Conduct early and ongoing assessment of children’s language and reading and of the quality of services and supports.
  3. Increase adults’ capacity to assess and support children’s language and reading development.
  4. Bring language-rich, rigorous, and engaging reading curricula into early education and care settings, as well as pre-kindergarten to third grade classrooms.
  5. Expand and strengthen work with families across learning settings and within communities.

To promote reading among Boston’s students, Read Boston, one of City Connects’ community partners, provides students with free books and creates classroom libraries in elementary schools that allow students to take books home to read with their families. What effective reading programs are in place in your community?

New National Numbers on High-poverty Schools

The National Center for Education Statistics has just released its 2010 Condition of Education report, an in-depth examination of 49 indicators on the state of education across the country. This year’s report includes a special section devoted to profiling high-poverty public schools and their students, staff, and outcomes.

Lunch

The report used the percentage of students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) through the National School Lunch Program to determine school poverty status. High-poverty schools had 76 to 100% of students eligible for FRPL and low-poverty schools had up to 25% of students eligible.

How does this compare to Boston? According to the most recent data from the Boston Foundation’s Indicators project, approximately 71% of Boston Public School students–roughly 40,000 students–qualify for FRPL. Nationally, there were 16,122 schools that were considered high-poverty, which shows a 5% increase over the past decade (12% of schools in 1999-2000 versus 17 percent in 2007-08).

The report says that for both elementary and secondary schools, there was little difference between the distribution of school support staff between  high- and low-poverty schools. At high-poverty elementary schools, 62% of all staff were professional instructional staff, 5% were student services professional staff, 16%  were aides, and 17% were other staff. The numbers at low-poverty elementary schools were very similar.

Despite the staffing levels being nearly identical, the report reiterated the outcomes of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments in reading, mathematics, music, and art, where students from high-poverty schools did not perform as well as students from low-poverty schools.

  • The full report is available here.

Massachusetts Governor Signs Anti-bullying Bill

Today, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed far-reaching anti-bullying legislation. From the State House press release:

“As Governor and as a parent, I feel very strongly that no child should feel threatened or unsafe in our schools,” said Governor Patrick. “Today, with this new law, we are giving our teachers, parents and kids the tools and protections they need so that every student has a chance to reach their full potential. I am proud to sign this bill and thank the Legislature for delivering on this critical priority.”

The release spells out new anti-bullying measures for teachers, schools, and communities:

  • All school staff must fully and swiftly detail any instance of bullying or retaliation to the appropriate school official.
  • The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) will establish statewide academic standards that include age-appropriate instruction in bullying prevention.
  • Every school, public and private, must publish detailed bullying prevention, intervention, and notification plans in student handbooks.
  • Districts must provide all school staff–from bus drivers to athletic coaches–targeted professional development to build the skills necessary to prevent, identify and respond appropriately to bullying incidents.
  • Rules and penalties apply to incidents that occur outside of school in the community and online (“cyber-bullying”)

You can follow the Governor’s office on Twitter for real-time updates like these: @MassGovernor

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