Look to Communities As Partners in Addressing 3rd Grade Reading Proficiency in Iowa

Deann Cook, Executive Director United Ways of Iowa, Kari McCann Boutell, President Iowa Council of Foundations and Becky Miles-Polka, Senior Consultant Campaign for Grade Level Reading wrote an opinion piece for the Des Moines Register which is currently posted on the Register's website and was printed in the December 14th edition. I've included the piece below. It is more important than ever to focus on grade level reading and increasing reading proficiencies for our children. The United Way of Wapello County will be pushing forward in it's efforts to ensure every child is reading profiently by third grade. I encourage you to reach out to local legislators to ensure they understand the importance of these efforts, as well. 

"The recent report by the Iowa Reading Research Center illustrated the complexity of developing the intensive summer reading program required by the Iowa law beginning in 2018.  Although many students maintained proficiency, it was disappointing to see struggling readers make little progress. However, summer learning remains an important strategy to address the puzzle of reading proficiency. Communities throughout Iowa are demonstrating it’s possible to create programs that engage students and accommodate family schedules. These models, combined with intensive summer reading instruction, can be the key to Iowa’s success in reading proficiency.


National reading trends are mirrored in Iowa where only 38% of all Iowa 4th graders and just 21% of low-income students were proficient on the National Assessment of Education Progress in 2015. These results should concern all Iowans as 3rd grade reading proficiency is a key predictor of high school graduation rates and future workforce readiness. Providing intensive reading instruction over the summer is an important strategy for struggling readers, but waiting until a child is in third grade is nearly too late. 


Iowa’s early warning system allows educators to identify struggling readers well before 3rd grade to provide intervention throughout the school year.  These same students need to continue to have quality opportunities every summer beginning after kindergarten to prevent the effects of summer learning loss that accumulate over the years – eventually leaving those who struggle far behind their peers after just a few summer breaks.


We know that schools cannot do this alone. Local leaders in eleven Iowa communities have committed to improving reading proficiency for low-income children by joining the Campaign for Grade Level Reading (CGLR).  Each community has developed a comprehensive plan that addresses three primary areas: school readiness, chronic absence and summer learning loss. Supported by community foundations, United Ways and private philanthropy, each of these communities has developed partnerships to ensure children have access to high-quality summer programming.  And the efforts are paying off. Summer learning loss is being prevented and many students are improving their reading proficiency. 


In communities such as Marshalltown where children at Rogers Elementary have had high-quality summer programming for multiple years, especially those critical years before third grade, reading proficiency is well above district and state averages. Several Iowa CGLR communities have created lunchtime programs combining summer meals with literacy enrichment in partnership with libraries, faith communities and volunteers. 


Research demonstrates that children who attend programming that incorporates literacy with hands-on learning are more likely to attend regularly. Programs that are full-day and offer transportation and meals to meet the schedules of working parents are most successful. If children see summer learning as a punishment and parents are unable to accommodate the schedule, they will be less likely to enroll or attend consistently. 


The good news is that multiple stakeholders can play a valuable role in meeting this challenge. The legislature should fund quality summer programming. The Department of Education should continue to identify the students most at-risk and develop effective instruction. Communities should come together to partner in sharing accountability for the success of our children. The Register should highlight the best examples of communities where all the pieces of this complex puzzle have come together to be most effective.  


Iowa has taken a strong stand to address the effects that lagging 3rd grade reading proficiency have on students, families, communities and the future workforce. We need to stand together to provide the comprehensive solutions that will drive success."