Strengthen literacy program in Charleston County schools
The Charleston County School District and its board have completed four years pursuing the Literacy Initiative Policy at a cost to the taxpayer of $40 million.
The literacy intervention methodology they used has been compared to best practices for improving early childhood literacy. Analysis shows that the CCSD program has and will continue to fail to successfully address the literacy problem in our public schools.
A major cause of poor literacy skills among CCSD children is a lack of literacy-rich home environments. Studies have shown that the socioeconomic level of parents, not race, is the dominant factor in determining a child’s vocabulary in preschool years.
The children who, through no fault of their own, are not exposed to a significant vocabulary at home by their parents will be continuously deficient in vocabulary and vocabulary growth. The range of exposure to a vocabulary base can differ by as much as 30 million words across the socioeconomic spectrum from professional families, to working class families, to welfare families. This gross difference in vocabulary exposure will determine the ability of the child to learn to read by the end of the third grade.
Without effective intervention, this disparity in exposure to vocabulary will continue on the same trajectory and will widen over time.
To successfully change the trajectory, effective literacy intervention must start by age 4 and be implemented continuously until grade level literacy proficiency is achieved. Starting after age 4 will not be effective.
The School Board and the CCSD have institutionalized the problem of poor literacy in our schools by their failure to implement two essential policies:
1) Children must learn to read proficiently on grade level by the end of the third grade. Mandated reading on grade level by the end of the third grade must be a requirement to advance to the fourth grade. Effective remedial programs for at-risk children must be developed to ensure meeting the third grade reading goal.
2) Children must not be promoted to the next grade without meeting the literacy and academic requirements for the assigned grade.
By not successively addressing the early childhood literacy problem, our five worst-performing high schools have graduation rates from 42 percent to 64 percent with dropout rates from 4 percent to 8.3 percent.
These five high schools have 20 to 36 percent of children entering the ninth grade reading at a fourth grade level or lower.
This condition occurs because the children have not achieved the grade level literacy and academic standards required to advance to the next grade.
These children are forced to advance to the fourth grade without reading proficiently on grade level by the end of the third grade – social promotion. As a result, in the fourth grade, they cannot read to learn.
By the time they reach the ninth grade, their reading and academic competency is five years behind their classmates who have met grade level requirements in all prior grades. They are prone to drop out of school with consequential negative social and economic outcomes.
The Annual Literacy Report by the CCSD to the School Board is not useful to show the community the severity of the existing literacy divide. To determine the effectiveness of the Literacy Initiative, and to assess the extent of the literacy divide, the superintendent should report by grade and by school:
The percent of students reading at grade level and the percent of students reading two grade levels or more lower than the assigned grade level for the literacy academies and for grades three through eight.
Analysis of the CCSD Literacy Initiative and comparison to successful best practices has been made and forwarded to the School Board.
Gov. Nikki Haley has just signed the Read to Succeed bill that incorporates these recommendations. The implementation of this legislation will improve the educational outcomes of children in the CCSD.