If a child is a proficient reader by the end of third grade, she is more likely to finish high school.
But Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS)reading scores show that nearly 40 percent of third graders in the Commonwealth are reading at a level below proficiency. This trend persists across the state, with the most alarming statistics coming from our lowest income school districts. To address this challenge, I introduced legislation, along with Representative Marty Walz, aimed at strengthening third grade reading proficiency through the Massachusetts Early Reading Council. I am very pleased that the Senate approved the bill this week.
A 2010 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that “reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a crucial marker in a child’s educational development.” The report pointed out that while much is known about how to teach early reading skills, the “problem is that policies and funding streams are too fragmented, programs too segmented by children’s age and grade, and key interventions too partial to get widespread, positive results.”
The legislation I sponsored will help address this challenge. The Massachusetts Early Reading Council will advise state education officials on early age language and literacy strategies. It will ensure that our curriculum is language rich, engaging and rigorous. It also will sharpen our focus on assessment strategies that are comprehensive, developmentally appropriate and used to inform practice.
Even as we strengthen curriculum and assessment strategies to build early literacy skills, we must continue to examine how our school districts are funded. I remain dedicated to providing all school districts with the resources they need to serve all our students, including supporting early education for children under the age of five.
The reason is clear: the outcomes of comprehensive early literacy programs benefit us all. Researchers like Professor Arthur Rolnick and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota’s Human Capital Research Collaborative have quantified high rates of return for public investment in services for children under the age of five. Indeed, the annual rate of return of up to 16 percent is higher than for many traditional economic development efforts, and significantly higher than the average post-WWII annual stock market yield of 5.8 percent.
Children in these programs are much more likely to graduate from high school, get jobs, and pay taxes. Just as importantly, they are 50 percent less likely to commit a crime.
As parents, teachers, administrators, concerned community members and government officials, we must continue to work together so that all children – at every ability level and at every grade level – receive an excellent education that unlocks their full potential and prepares them to succeed. When we do, we wisely invest in their future – and our own.