Louisiana reading scores for young students continue to drop
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Reading scores for Louisiana’s youngest students have plunged for three consecutive years, according to a new report that is drawing attention to one of the state’s top challenges for improving classroom achievement.
The Advocate reports that more than half of students in kindergarten through third grades are performing below grade level, a potential harbinger of major learning problems.
“Clearly what we are doing is not getting the results that our kids deserve,” state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“I am alarmed by this,” Brumley said.
Reading problems have been an issue for years, and are one of the reasons why Louisiana ranks near the bottom nationally in education achievement. But the latest results are especially bleak.
Just under 60% of kindergarten students were reading below grade level in 2020, up from 50% in 2018, according to the state Department of Education.
The report shows nearly 58% of first graders are below grade level in reading, compared to 39% in 2018. Among second-graders, nearly 52% fell below the standard, compared to 41% two years earlier. For third graders, more than half were subpar compared to 41% in 2018.
“I don’t want this report to go away and not recognize that we have a challenge in front of us,” Brumley said. “We need a reading revival in this state.”
Experts say if a child is not reading on grade level by the third grade, the student is at risk of having long-term school problems. State law requires students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades to undergo literacy screening within 30 days of the start of the school year.
“I think K-3 is the gatekeeper for everything else that is going to happen,” said former Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Linda Johnson, who served on the board for 13 years.
Johnson sounded similar alarms 14 years ago. She said the state consistently suffers from a lack of adequate preschool programs and has implemented too many programs for reading improvements with too many stops and starts. She said Louisiana needs to better partner with parents to help their children.
Libbie Sonnier, a member of Louisiana’s Early Literacy Commission, said in some parishes more than 90% of children who enter kindergarten are ill-prepared to learn. About half are unprepared statewide.
“It speaks to the need for continued investment in early literacy and how we really need to focus on instruction in those kindergarten, first, second and third grades and really spend the time and effort to make sure children are getting the instruction they need that science supports,” she said.
The commission has twice said Louisiana needs to spend $15 million per year for early literacy. The Legislature last year approved $2 million, which is being used to fund pilot projects in 12 school districts.