The latest results of standardized tests taken by Massachusetts students were a mixed bag. The 2012 MCAS scores were the highest in the 14 year history of the test. Education officials say the achievement gap is closing between minorities and whites. But early childhood education advocates decry the lack of progress in third grade reading, which is a strong predictor of future success in school. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The 2012 MCAS results, released Monday by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education showed 39 percent of third graders scored below proficient in reading. Performance on the third grade MCAS reading test has been stagnant for more than a decade. Children from low income families struggle the most with just 30 percent capable of reading at their grade level.
Several of the state’s urban school systems, including Springfield, Worcester and Pittsfield have adopted programs to improve early childhood literacy. In Holyoke, a new early literacy initiative has been launched by the mayor’s office. Mayor Alex Morse, using a $100,000 grant from the United Way and the Davis Foundation has hired an early literacy coordinator to work out of city hall.
The new office will coordinate a full scale push toward boosting third grade reading proficiency by aligning the work of the Holyoke Public School system with that of community partners.
Holyoke School Superintendent David Dupont said the early literacy initiative is the most worthy cause he’s seen during his 40 year career in public education.
Tapped to be the Early Literacy Coordinator in Holyoke is Andrew Melendez. He is a former director of the Greater Holyoke office of the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce. He was also on the staff of Homework House, a tutoring program founded by two Catholic nuns.
Melendez has set an ambitious goal. Just 24 percent of Holyoke’s third graders scored proficient on the MCAS reading test in 2011. The goal of the new initiative is to increase it to 85 percent in 2014.
Holyoke won’t be delving blindly into an early literacy campaign. Michael Moriarity, of the Holyoke School Committee, said the city will follow research based strategies promoted by national advocates for early education.
Amy O’Leary, the director of Strategies for Children’s Early Education for All campaign, said it a statement that it was alarming that 39 percent of third graders are not proficient readers and that Massachusetts made virtually no progress in third grade reading over the past decade. She called on Governor Deval Patrick to sign a bill, approved by the Legislature in July that would establish an expert panel to advise state agencies on improving language and literacy development of children.