University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Arkansas’ Struggling Readers

In The View from the OEP on October 10, 2018 at 3:12 pm

Today we are excited to release new research about Arkansas’ struggling readers. We thought since school performance reports are being released this Friday, it is a good time to remember that actual kids are behind the test scores used to generate the reports.  We hope you take a moment to reflect on who Arkansas’ struggling readers are, and how their reading skills develop through early high school.

We think this research is particularly important in light of all the effort that Arkansas educators are putting into improving early reading ability. By better understanding the historical improvement patterns of students who demonstrate low reading ability in third grade, we can better evaluate the effectiveness of the efforts to improve outcomes for struggling readers.

We examined the reading achievement of nearly 77,000 Arkansas students who were continuously enrolled in Arkansas public schools from 3rd grade through early high school. We hope you read the policy brief and more in-depth Arkansas Education Report, but we briefly summarize our findings here:


Who isn’t reading ‘on grade level’ in 3rd grade?

  • Students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches were twice as likely to be low-achieving readers in 3rd grade, compared to their more economically advantaged peers.
  • Students who are Black or Hispanic were twice as likely to be low-achieving readers in 3rd grade, compared to their White peers.

We know- you’re like “Duh” any teacher could have told you that, but it is important to have the data, the facts, about out struggling readers.

  • Males are somewhat more likely than females to be identified as low-achieving readers but the difference is not as large as it is between economic and racial groups.
  • ELLs are somewhat more likely than non-ELLs to be identified as low-achieving readers but the difference is not as large as it is between economic and racial groups.

Do the students who demonstrate low reading achievement in 3rd grade ‘catch up’ to their peers over time and what are the characteristics of students who do?  Note- we use standardized scores (z-scores) to examine student achievement over time due to changes in assessment.  You can read more about the methodology in the full report.

  • Of students who were initially low-achieving in 3rd grade, 12% ‘caught up’ to average state reading performance by early high school.
  • Students who were economically advantaged, White, Hispanic and/or female students were more likely to reach average reading achievement by early high school than their Black, male, and economically disadvantaged peers.
  • Among over 6,000 Black students who were identified as low-achieving in 3rd grade, only 6% demonstrated average reading achievement by early high school.
  • All types of low-achieving students demonstrated large improvements between 3rd and 4th grades, although rates of improvement after 4th grade is very different for different types of students.

 

Presented below are the standardized scores of initially low-achieving students from 3rd through 10th grade.  Results are presented by FRL participation and by race.

Figure 1: Average Reading Scores of Initially Low-Achieving Students: Grade 3 through 10 by Economic Disadvantage (FRL) Status g3 reading frl

Figure 2: Average Reading Scores of Initially Low-Achieving Students: Grade 3 through 10 by Race

g3 reading race

None of these initially low-performing student groups, even White or economically advantaged students, caught back up to the state average as a group by early high school.

  • Hispanic and economically advantaged students are achieving almost a half standard deviation increase in achievement as a group, and White students are making approximately 0.4 standard deviation increase, while Black and low-income students are making closer to a quarter of a standard deviation increase in achievement.
  • Even though low-achieving Hispanic students initially have very low average scores, they make advancements comparable to those of White students, the most advantaged group. This is an exciting trend to observe because it indicates potential for a narrowing achievement gap between White and Hispanic students.

You might be thinking that there are differences in reading score improvement between Hispanic students who are identified as ELL and Hispanic students who are not. We were pleased to find that both ELL and Non-ELL students made large gains in reading achievement over time as presented in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Average Reading Scores of Initially Low-Achieving Students: Grade 3 through 10 by English Language Learner Status

g3 reading ELL

 


In summary, Arkansas students face large and persistent racial and socioeconomic disparities in third grade reading scores. Moreover, few of our students who are struggling readers in third grade ever catch up to the state average. And these are for relatively stable students, those who are continuously enrolled in our schools from grades 3-10.

Our hope is that Arkansas’ average reading scores will continue to increase and all students will grow to read proficiently, but it is evident that special attention needs to be given to low income and racial minority students and students who are struggling with basic reading skills in third grade.

Although some schools saw double-digit reading proficiency gains after RISE trainings in 2017, similar improvement was not reflected on 2018 assessments. Programs must be carefully monitored to determine what, if any, impact they are having on changing the long-terms outcomes for students who, as demonstrated in this research, are likely to continue to struggle to read proficiently throughout their educational experience.

Schools and districts should carefully examine the progress of their struggling readers and consider the effectiveness of any interventions or programs that are being implemented.  Although this analysis uses state assessments as the measure of student achievement, schools and districts should examine multiple measures, including high quality formative assessments, to evaluate progress in student’s reading.

We must continue to strive to ensure that all students are leaving elementary school as competent readers, equipped with the literacy foundation necessary for future academic success.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: