Monday, December 4, 2017

AV#170 - Priorities for our next governor: #1 - But how well can they read?

“The No. 1 indicator of whether an elementary school student will later attend college is not income, race or ZIP code, said Morris Price, executive director of City Year Denver. It’s whether a child is reading at a third-grade level by the third grade.”
City Year Denver helps kids get a jump at success,” The Denver Post, Nov. 12, 2017

In criticizing Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2017 state-of-the-state address in my April newsletter (#160), I named three “fundamental topics” that other governors addressed in their state-of-the-state speeches: our lowest-performing schools; the state of the teaching profession; and students’ reading skills.  As our governor has given little attention to these three during his time in office,[i] my newsletter this winter will make the case why those eager to succeed him should make these priorities. 
My focus, here, is reading.
But can they read well?
Reading is so YESTERDAY!
 Focus on the future: COMPUTER SCIENCE
Feb. 23: “So far in 2017, STEM and computer science continue to capture governors’ attention as they look for ways to better align education with projected workforce demands. Here’s a look at governors’ computer science and STEM proposals in 2017 State of the State addresses.” (Education Commission of the States). Examples from speeches by Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, & New York governors.[ii]
Reading skills as a priority? NO WAY!  That’s just not sexy.  
Jesse and Leo, a couple of the high school boys I tutored the past few years, spoke unkindly of my 2007 Prius.  I think they meant it as advice for a pathetic old bachelor—because they would laugh when they told me:

“That is definitely not,” they insisted, sarcastically,
“a chick-magnet!” 

Speaking of not being sexy – it may be hopeless to ask our gubernatorial candidates to focus on reading.  As I wrote in AV#160, the focus for many of the nation’s governors last winter was … computer science (see box).  Only two (female) governors–Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Susana Martinez of New Mexico—thank you ladies!—found their states’ efforts to ensure more young students read at grade level worth mentioning.  

And on it went during 2017:
June 26: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder called on lawmakers to change the requirements ….  He said computer science should count to meet a foreign language requirement…”[iii]
June 29:A year after a bipartisan coalition of governors was established to promote the growth of computer science education in K-12 classrooms, numerous states have taken up the cause, with millions being allocated by state legislatures to increase the accessibility of CS classes….”[iv]

I present here an overview of the huge percentage of Colorado’s youngest students whose reading skills do not “meet expectations.”  I hope the data makes our gubernatorial candidates take notice.  How can this issue not be near the top of their agenda?

If it is not, I wonder if we have lost our way.

Priority #1 for me: let’s do all we can to help our students read well.

1.    A look at Colorado’s chief effort to help K-3 students who struggle to read (the 2012 READ Act).
Key findings: In 2016-17, 14.8% of our K-3 students—over 39,000—demonstrated “significant reading deficiency.”  Of last year’s 3rd graders, 17.2%--11,500 students—demonstrated “significant reading deficiency”; nevertheless, most advanced into 4th grade. 

2.  A look at grades 3-5 and reading from TCAP - 2014.
Key finding: Results in 2014 showed close to 30% of students in grades 3-5 were not proficient readers—almost 57,000 students.
3.  A look at grades 3-5 from PARCC – ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS - 2015-17:
Key findings: PARCC results 2015-2017 show over 50% of students in grades 3-5 were NOT meeting expectations in English (reading & writing). (We still wait for CDE to break down the difference on these two critical disciplines.)
PARCC results in 2017 tell us over 75% of Black and Latino 3rd grade students were NOT meeting expectations in English; furthermore, over 50% of Black and Latino students scored in the bottom two categories: “Did Not Yet Meet-” and “Partially Met-” Expectations, far short of performing at grade level. This indicates that many students of color—even if not on a READ plan—will need much extra help in grades 4, 5, 6 … to be able to read at grade level.

1)  READ ACT – 14.8% of K-3 students identified as having a “significant reading deficiency”
Read Act intervention funds distribution
2015 - $33,123,766
2016 - $32,991,989
2017 - $33,047,938
I trust every gubernatorial candidate knows we have spent almost $100 million the past three years (see box) to address this fundamental issue of the reading skills for our youngest students. The data below tell us much more needs to be done if we are to achieve our goal: to see students read well as they enter fourth grade. 

Any candidate serious about the K-12 system should study CDE’s READ Act report from 2017, its finding after three full years of implementation (2013-14 to 2015-16).  A few highlights from that report follow.  An objective, third-party assessment, “2017 State of Literacy in Colorado Report”[vi] by Stand for Children, is also required reading: it shows where careful implementation of the READ Act is reaping benefits in many schools and several districts, and makes valuable recommendations on what more can be done. (See excerpts in Addendum A.)

From the 2017 READ Act report by the Colorado Department of Education[vii]
(NOTE: Bold throughout is mine)

The Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act (READ Act) focuses on early literacy development for all students with special attention for students at-risk for not achieving third grade reading proficiency. …
We know that early literacy is a key component of success in school and in life. By challenging our state to decrease the number of students identified as at-risk while also moving more students toward grade-level proficiency, we believe collectively we can drive student achievement here in Colorado while also serving as a national model for improving literacy and educational success for all children.
                From the Opening Letter by the Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes

From page 2:
The Colorado READ Act passed in 2012 with the purpose of ensuring every student in Colorado reaches reading proficiency by the end of third grade. The provisions of the Act promote early identification of reading difficulties and effective intervention to quickly close reading gaps and ensure all Colorado students can demonstrate a level of competency in reading skills necessary to achieve success in school.

From page 4:
In spring of 2016, the assessment results for 262,878 K-3 students were reported through the READ Act data collection. Of those students, 39,014 (14.8 percent) were identified as having a significant reading deficiency.

We should have no illusions as to how difficult it will be to reduce these numbers (see AV#144: “Fulfilling the Colorado READ Act: a steep climb ahead,” March 2016). CDE’s READ ACT DASHBOARD[viii] shows the number and percentage of K-3 students in Colorado identified as having a significant reading deficiency has held steady the first three years of implementation.


The overall 14.8% SRD figure is disturbing enough, but break it down and consider the percentage of K-3 students of color identified as a long way from reading at grade level:
American Indian or Alaskan Native                          22.7%
Black or African American                                           22.6%
Hispanic or Latino                                                            22.5%
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander             18.6%

“Research shows that students in the third grade who read at grade level are much more likely to stay at grade level and be on track to graduate high school on time.”
DPS School Board Member and
former Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien[ix]
For 20 years, gubernatorial candidates have promised to address Colorado’s ongoing achievement gap … but here we are.  Still.  I would prefer politicians drop the platitudes about “education as the civil rights issue of our time” and instead make a specific and sincere commitment to tackle the gap in reading skills in the early grades. 

It’s not just Denver and Aurora … or why this calls for state leadership 
Many districts, of course, perform above average on all these assessments, but even in a “local-control state,” our next governor should recognize the severity of the problem in far too many communities across Colorado.  An issue this widespread requires state leadership.  If a careful study reveals that the $33 million a year for the READ Act is being spent appropriately (we hear reports of districts diverting funds away from reading), it follows that, to make better progress in the next few years, we must spend even more.

Students identified with “significant reading deficiency” - 2014 to 2016[x]
10 districts above state average

# of students w/ SRD in 2016[xi]
State Average
39,014 K-3 students
Adams 14
Greeley 6
Colorado Springs 11

OVER 15,000 students w/ SRD just in these 10 districts

READ Act helps students through 3rd grade –
but what about those (30,000-plus) students still identified as SRD?

CDE’s 2017 READ Act report also showed that the percentage of students completing third grade in 2016 identified as SRD is even higher than that 14.8% overall figure.
2016 Percentage of Students Identified with SRD
First Grade
Second Grade
Third Grade
17.2% equates to 11,500 students. Even though they are far from reading at grade level, most advanced into 4th grade.

The READ ACT report has those students--and thousands more—in mind when it notes how many move up through their elementary grades still struggling to read:

It is important to stress the urgency of responding to our state’s READ Act initiative since there are approximately 31,000 students beyond third grade with READ plans still in place as of the 2016 collection close. There are approximately 8,000 students who were identified with an SRD in third grade in 2013 and remain on a READ plan as seventh graders in 2016. (page 15)

My wish exactly, to stress the urgency – a conviction we desperately need from Colorado’s next governor.  (Need an example from another state? See Addendum B for the focus Rhode Island’s Gov. Gina Raimondo brings to this issue.)     

2)  CSAP/TCAP data over 18 years: 30% of students in grades 3-5 not reading at grade level
Throughout the years of CSAP/TCAP tests (1997-2014), state-wide data on reading and language arts skills in grades 3-5 revealed a high percentage of elementary students were not reading at grade level.  As had been true for some time, in 2014, the final year of TCAP, roughly 30% of students in grades 3-5 students were NOT proficient in reading. 
TCAP 2014 (last year TCAP was given)[xii]

Partially Proficient
Grade 3


Grade 4


Grade 5


Grade 3 - 28% not reading at grade level – 17,773 students
Grade 4 - 32% not reading at grade level – 20,681 students
Grade 5 - 29% not reading at grade level – 18,532 students
                                                                             56,986 students, grades 3-5, not reading at grade level

3)  PARCC- 2015-2017 – Grades 3-5 - over 50% not at grade level in English
 How can we be serious …
without the data on reading?
The Colorado Department of Education no longer tells us if students are proficient readers. I find this absurd.  In AV#167 - “ELA scores hide the gap: give us reading and writing scores (again)” - I urged CDE to do more than simply present the overall English Language Arts (ELA) score.  Especially when one of CDE’s four goals states:
“Every student reads at or above grade level by the end of third grade.”[xiii]
  How can we be serious about achieving this objective if we do not report this data?

Since 2014, the shift from CSAP/TCAP to PARCC as our state assessment—which raised the bar to “Meet Expectations” of grade level work—we find an even higher percentage of elementary students in Colorado are not where they need to be in English Language Arts.  (The National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP, gave us equally harsh results for a decade[xiv]--another reason many of us find the PARCC results more credible than CSAP/TCAP data.)


PARCC results[xv] - English Language Arts (reading and writing) - % Meeting or Exceeding Expectations


PARCC results show less than 50% of students in grades 3-5 Meet or Exceed Expectations in English Language Arts.

Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5

Look just at that figure for Grade 3 for last spring – 40.1%.  Here is a breakdown for the percentage of students scoring in each of the five categories on ELA. 

5 categories -  Overall Results

% Did Not Yet Meet Expectations
% Partially Met Expectations
% Approached Expectations
% Met Expectations
% Exceeded Expectations
TOTAL Meeting or Exceeding Expectations
Grade 3

Equity #2: Overall, 18.6% and 17.5% far from meeting expectations,
but for Black and Hispanic students?

Now let’s look at the percent scoring in the lowest two categories on PARCC – English Language Arts – around race and ethnicity.  If students scoring in these lowest two categories are not on a READ Act plan, they are still quite likely not reading at grade level.  (Again, lack of details from CDE makes this a guess!  CDE does provide “scale score” data for reading.[xvi]) 
K-12 enrollment in Colorado for students of color has climbed to 45%—a percentage that will keep growing.  The gap evident in the data below suggests that if we do not take major steps to dramatically improve reading skills in K-3, the majority of young Colorado students might well struggle to read well.  Which of course suggests—more broadly–as students, they will not achieve all they might if ….
PARCC – ELA - 2017
State average
Grade 3

% Partially Met Expectations
TOTAL % in bottom two categories
Grade 4

% Did Not Yet Meet Expectations
% Partially Met Expectations
TOTAL % in bottom two categories

Can we also guess what percentage of Black and Hispanic students in grades 3 and 4 are not close to reading at grade level?  Possibly 40-50%?   Again, this is data we should have; the sooner CDE makes this public, the better.  The facts will give all of us–including our next governor --an even more compelling reason to make improving the reading skills of our youngest students a priority.
But can they read well?
The answer to my guiding question, for tens of thousands of our kids—as I have shown—is that today, NO, they cannot read well.
Gubernatorial candidates and state leaders: as I will address in my next few newsletters, Gov. Hickenlooper’s state of the state last January (see highlights, Addendum C) conveyed the focus that several of you now articulate as a central purpose of education: training for the workplace.  I will argue why this is not a vision for K-12 schools in Colorado I can support. 
It is a challenge to set priorities for such a broad field as public education.  But ask most of us if job #1 is to teach reading—or if it is to add computer classes and apprenticeships.  It’s not a hard question, is it?
Two past newsletters on reading are at this website.

Fourth grade achievement gap – still “losing ground”?  (Feb. 4, 2014) 
     READ Act and the staggering percentage of 4th graders not proficient in reading

AV#144 - Fulfilling the Colorado READ Act: a steep climb ahead (March 2, 2016)

A. “2017 State of Literacy in Colorado Report,” by Stand for Children
B.   “Third grade scores should alarm Rhode Island” – by Erika Sanzi, The Providence Journal
C.    So what did Gov. Hickenlooper speak to regarding K-12 education? Technical training and skills.
D.   Three other reasons to worry our candidates will not put reading skills front and center
E.   “Bill Owens’ advice to John Hickenlooper: Make a difference in education” – The Denver Post, 2011
F.   Coding as literacy – (not fake news!) -“Ed-Tech Trends, Challenges Predicted for Next Five Years,”
Education Week, Sept. 13, 2017

Addendum A
“2017 State of Literacy in Colorado Report,”[xvii] by Stand for Children
“Through the READ Act, Colorado educators and students are making progress toward third grade reading proficiency.” Schools with the Early Literacy Grant, “in particular, are showing extraordinary growth.”  
“The first group of students to receive the full benefit of the READ Act, meaning scientifically based reading support from kindergarten through third grade, had a 60.1% reduction in the prevalence of significant reading deficiencies at the end of third grade.”
“Colorado has laid a strong foundation of support for our most struggling readers in the early grades, but if the state wants to improve literacy rates for all students from kindergarten through high school and beyond, more needs to be done. Based on Stand’s policy work, educator feedback, and data, we have identified three gaps in the state’s literacy landscape due to inequities in resources and student outcomes. We believe that if addressed appropriately, closing these gaps would have a powerful impact on improving literacy rates in Colorado.”
Decades of research have shown there are five skills children must develop to become proficient readers by the time they enter fourth grade. …  Fortunately, the state has used this research to lay a strong foundation to improve reading outcomes for Colorado students by adopting the READ Act. The READ Act, when implemented with fidelity, has demonstrated success in improving literacy rates. Ensuring consistent implementation of best practices in literacy throughout the state, supporting students with an SRD, as well as students not reading proficiently, and supporting students who enter fourth grade (or later) reading below proficiency are key areas that, if addressed, could play a powerful role in improving literacy rates. Colorado can and must do more to improve literacy outcomes for every student.

Addendum B
 “Third grades scores should alarm Rhode Island” – by Erika Sanzi, Nov. 7, 2017[xviii]
Third grade reading scores are a very big deal because they are accepted as the most predictive indicator of whether a student will finish high school. Hey, Rhode Island, our third grade reading results should be a very loud wake-up call! Despite some significant improvements since 2015, our results were flat between last year and this year, and our overall proficiency rates are unacceptably low for far too many of our third graders.

The good news is that every subgroup, with the exception of Native American students, has improved since 2015. The bad news is that the percentage of proficient readers in third grade is stunningly low, particularly when it comes to black students, Hispanic students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and low-income students. Not a single one of these groups is more than 26 percent proficient. That means that when we line up 10 children, we can’t even say that three of them in any of these categories read at grade level.

Let that sink in.

And our boys, overall, are struggling. When we line up ten boys, we can’t even say that four of them read at grade level. And while the girls outperform the boys by a whopping 10 percentage points, we still can’t say that five out of ten girls are proficient third grade readers….

To her credit, Gov. Gina Raimondo has made third grade reading a priority by setting a goal with an actual deadline. The Providence Journal covered it back in September 2016:

“Today, I’m drawing a line in the sand and setting a clear goal for Rhode Island: By 2025, when the kids who were born this year reach third grade, three out of four will be reading at grade level,” Raimondo said in a prepared statement.
“When I see that just over a third of our third graders are reading on grade level, I’m disappointed, frustrated and I’m impatient,” she said. “Study after study shows that the number-one indicator of high school graduation and future success is a child’s ability to read on grade level by third grade.”

But we, as parents, must also be part of the plan. Where is our impatience? Where are our voices? We are always talking about school stuff, whether on Facebook or on the sidelines of our kids’ games, but somehow these reading results don’t make it into most conversations.

That must change. Even if our own child is reading at or above grade level, our communities and our state as a whole are gravely impacted when children — who later grow into adults — aren’t fully literate.

We must care. Not only is it humane to want the best for other people’s children, but our economy can’t afford for us not to care about this.

Erika Sanzi, an occasional contributor, writes for Education Post and and is a senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute. She has taught in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island and served on the Cumberland School Committee.

Addendum C

From the State-of-the State Address, Jan. 12, 2017[xix]

   Thousands of Coloradans’ careers have shifted beneath their feet, but there are still thousands of new jobs that need to be filled, many of which don’t require college degrees.
    But they do require skills, knowledge, and expertise.  
    We need to include pathways not just to four-year degrees but also to technical training and skills certificates for the many jobs in Colorado that require advanced skills like cybersecurity training.
    And even beyond cybersecurity, there is increasing demand for technical skills.
    From high school students wanting to work as apprentices—to the many Coloradans who want a new career—either from passion or necessity—these jobs should be available for everyone.
    If we do this right, there should be an opportunity for thousands of Coloradans to acquire skills either in classrooms or on the job that are career-focused and transferrable to different industries in the future.
    In the last 18 months, foundations, corporations and the federal government have joined our cause and provided more than $15 million in grants to fund innovative public-private partnerships like Skillful and CareerWise Colorado, helping students and job seekers develop new skills for new careers.
    Today, we are a national model for matching education with skills based training.
    Sean Wybrant is Colorado’s Teacher of the Year. He has been teaching for 11 years at Palmer High in Colorado Springs, as he said, to “change the world.”
    And he’s changing it by focusing on the one-third of our kids who won’t go on to four year or two year colleges.  He’s preparing the next generation for the career and technical jobs of tomorrow.
    Tim Kistler is the Superintendent of the Peyton School District in El Paso County, where he helped open the Woods Manufacturing Program in an empty middle school.
    It teaches students cutting edge skills needed in the woodworking industry.
    We thank both Sean and Tim for helping to close the skills gap, and for making sure all students realize their potential.
    Closing the gap means giving students a solid foundation for success at every step of their education, as they move from preschool through K-12, toward college, certificate, or apprenticeship and onto a good job.

Addendum D

Three reasons to worry our candidates will not put reading skills front and center
  1. From “Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education,” Chalkbeat Colorado[xx]
Annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards - Oct. 13
Education topics that came up at this forum:
1. state’s tax code, funding formula
2. unnecessary red tape
3. PERA - state’s retirement program
4. charter schools
5. vouchers
6. help for rural schools
Not a word in Chalkbeat’s article about reading.  Not a word, either, about the teaching profession, or the state’s lowest performing schools.

  1. Other priorities we hear about on the campaign
“Although the governor’s office has relatively little influence over public schools, candidates from both major parties are incorporating messages about education into their platforms.” Chalkbeat Colorado, Aug. 21, 2017. [xxi] This article mentioned different goals from four candidates:
  • provide tuition free college;
  • expand apprenticeship programs;
  • boost vocational training;
  • establishing universal full day kindergarten and preschool.

  1. Advice from the National Governors’ Association 
Candidates might be tempted to turn to “NGA’s Education Division – Strategic Plan”[xxii] for guidance. They will be reminded “that governors are uniquely positioned to drive state policy across the education and workforce pipeline….”  They will read of “five key initiatives, each representing an area of education from birth through college and career. Each initiative includes a range of focus areas that align with the needs of governors and their education policy advisors.” 
1) Governance and Finance 2) Standards, Assessments and Accountability; 3) Human Capital; 4) Whole Child; 5) Personalized Education.
Interesting and useful - but not one of the five speak to the question: How well do our students read?
And where we find one specific recommendation on what should be taught, guess what we see:
    “Redesigning high school with a greater emphasis on digital learning and other new opportunities.”
I rest my case.

Addendum E

The Denver Post, Opinion, Jan. 6, 2011

From an open letter from former governor Bill Owens to John Hickenlooper as he began his time in office.  Here in Gov. Hickenlooper’s final year - advice not taken, many of us would say.  But maybe worth a look for our next governor:

   The most important area where our new governor can be creative and cost-effective — and use some of the unique political capital he brings to the table — is education reform. Gov. Hickenlooper has the potential to make significant and lasting improvements to our schools, and build a brighter future for Colorado’s children ….
   Every governor — myself included — confronts the continuing and, sadly, often intractable challenge of creating an education system that creates opportunity for children while expanding Colorado’s economic competitiveness. During my eight years, we worked to reform and improve our schools through a wide range of effective measures including school choice, charter schools, and increased standards and accountability. I’m proud of our record, and our reforms have made a real difference.
   And yet, it doesn’t diminish these reforms to face reality: We are a long way from the goal of providing every child in the state with access to a world-class education….
   There is no time like the launch of a new governor’s term to take on the bigger issues. And the test of leadership is always mustering the courage to leave the comfort zone of one’s political base and set out to achieve goals that are important and necessary….
   It is daunting to predict a governor’s legacy before he even takes the oath of office, but with bold and brave efforts on education reform, John Hickenlooper can earn the thanks not only of a grateful Colorado, but the knowledge that he has improved the lives of children who haven’t even been born yet….

Addendum F

Coding as Literacy – (Seriously!)
“Coding, Robotics, Makerspaces Poised to Grow in Schools, Report Says,”[xxiv]
by Sara Schwartz, Education Week, Sept. 12, 2017

Coding and the rise of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) learning are the trends to watch in K-12 educational technology this year, and schools may be expanding robotics programs and makerspaces, which are physical environments for hands-on learning, predicts a recent report from the New Media Consortium and the Consortium for School Networking ….

Some trends are geared toward workforce development. Coding as literacy, the idea that basic computer science and computational skills are as important to teach as reading and writing, was identified as a trend shaping curriculum and driving the adoption of new software in the classroom over the next year or two. Coding offers students skills that are vital to a range of professional fields, including marketing, data analysis, and web development, the report argues.

[i] It is worth noting, though, that Gov. Hickenlooper’s Dashboard & Priorities page does makes a clear statement on reading – To increase achievement of third graders reading at benchmark – quite similar to one of CDE’s stated four goals (see page 3).
[xiii] Colorado Department of Education Performance Plan,
[xiv] As noted previously (AV#164), the NAEP scores were telling Colorado for some time now that our CSAP/TCAP “proficiency” figures were suspiciously high.  If the 2015 NAEP reading scores for grade 4 put Colorado in the middle of the all states (22nd), that is hardly reassuring. It means most states, like Colorado, face the same formidable challenge: to try to get at first 50%, and then 60%--and then we hope an even higher percentage of students—to finish elementary school reading close to grade level.
Over the past decade, a portion of Colorado 4th graders took the NAEP assessment for reading.  Each time, less than 42% were at or above proficiency.
NAEP scores om READING - for Colorado students - % at or above proficient

4th grade Reading

[xvi] Where CDE does offer a breakdown, below, it tells schools and parents the average scale score for each grade on reading. 
           Average scale score - Reading

Grade 3

Grade 4

Grade 5
As CDE made it clear to me, in an email (9/20/17): “the mean scale score does not tell us the proportion of students meeting expectations.”  Again I believe this is exactly what we ought to know, what we need to know – for each of these two distinct and vital academic disciplines—reading and writing.