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New Steps Needed to Improve Literacy in Mass., Report Says

When people talk about student achievement in Massachusetts, it's usually in the context of how well the state is doing compared with others. But a new report suggests that Massachusetts has no cause to rest on its laurels. Noting that 43 percent of its 3rd graders are not reading on grade level (based on state test results from 2009), the report delves into the "external and in-school barriers to reading achievement." It also makes the case for a "major, comprehensive refocusing" of the state's efforts to improve children's language and literacy development from birth to age 9.

Commissioned by the Boston-based nonprofit Strategies for Children, the report provides five core recommendations to ensure "measurable" improvements in reading outcomes for Massachusetts students. They include:

• improving the intensity and effective implementation of reading and language interventions for children;

• conducting early and ongoing assessments of children's language and learning skills, as well as the quality of services and supports they receive;

• redefining professional education to increase adults' capacity to assess and support children's language and reading development (and by adults, the report means not just teachers, but child-care providers, health-care professionals, and others who work closely with children);

• bringing "language-rich, rigorous, and engaging reading curricula into early education and care settings, as well as PK-3 classrooms"; and

• expanding and strengthening work with families across learning settings and within communities.

"So in pursuit of better reading outcomes, we need to take a more scientific and a more preventive approach," declares the report, whose lead author is Nonie K. Lesaux, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "We need to alter our course, and this involves revisiting some basic assumptions and practices."

"This is not about sounding an alarm; it is about ringing the bell louder, so that our policymakers, philanthropists, educators, medical professionals, business and community leaders, parents, and caregivers take note," the report adds. "We
must pull our at-risk readers along and we must push all readers forward. It is time to turn the page."

A story about the study from the Boston Globe notes that Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville praised the report as a "very important call to action," and acknowledged the challenges of addressing reading proficiency within a tight budget. This year, Massachusetts provided cities and towns $4 million for literacy programs, the story notes.

"Right now we don't have nearly as much money as we'd like to have to do the kind of work that we'd want to do in early literacy,'' Reville said, according to the Globe story.

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