The importance of being able to read and the growing number of Americans who remain illiterate has taken center stage among educators and politicians alike.
And to punctuate the severity of the issue, students, teachers and other staff members at Cora L. Rice Elementary braved light rain Tuesday to walk at least one mile roundtrip from their school building in Landover, Maryland, to FedEx Field to promote the importance of literacy.
Children like second-grader Christina McClearn showcased colorful signs to commuters driving near the stadium to signify how “Reading is cool. Reading is fun. Reading is also important.”
Reading teacher Rudolph Skipworth dressed up to resemble one of Dr. Seuss’s most infamous book characters, “The Cat in the Hat.”
“This is all in the name of reading,” he said while walking back to the school. “Reading overlaps every subject out there. We’ve got to get our kids to survive and reading is the number one way to do that.”
Cora Rice Elementary’s “literacy parade” was the school’s kickoff to its Tuesday evening activity for parents to return to school with their children and read an array of books on various topics to emphasize the fundamentals of reading.
The Prince George’s County Public School System has a strong focus on literacy this year. To highlight its significance, six new literacy coaches are in the high schools along with four central-office literacy specialists to support the coaches.
In addition, a pilot program for Saturday School launched last month at High Point High School in Beltsville supports 200 students from grades one to 12 who receive additional academic instruction.
To evaluate a student’s literacy skills, they take a test known as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) first administered this spring.
The results are based on a five-level performance scale needed to exceed in college and obtain a career. The scale starts at level one, or “not yet met,” to level five which highlights students who have “exceeded” that benchmark.
Test results from students in grades three through eight will not be released until next month.
“The Cora Rice Elementary program shows we have a clear focus to make sure our kids are thinking critically and clearly and writing proficiently,” Shawn Joseph, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning for the county schools, said Monday. “If we empower students to read and write, they can achieve academically.”
However, PARCC test results in English and math from area high school students that were released Nov. 5 revealed that serious challenges remain for educators and their students. According to the data from students who took the 10th grade English exam, less than one-third of the students were proficient.
About 29 percent of those students reached levels four and five. More than 22 percent of Black students who took the English test scored at level 4, versus 21 percent among their peers statewide.
“I think our English 10 literacy results show we have a lot of work to do, and the state has a lot of work to do to make sure our students are college and career ready,” Joseph said. “Now that we have a strategic plan in reading and writing across all content areas…to focus on literacy, we will do better.”
In neighboring Montgomery County, 44 percent of those students met, or exceeded at those same levels; 27 percent of those students were Black. Those student’s overall scores are above the statewide mark of 40 percent in 10th grade English.
Maryland is one of 11 states and the District of Columbia that administered the PARCC assessment. In the District, 27 percent of DCPS students are proficient in 10th grade English. According to the results, three high schools
scored a zero.
Student assessment for Virginia students are done through the Standards of Learning and Testing.
According to reading test scores last school year in grades three through eight, 79 percent of those students passed the tests on their grade level. About 89 percent of high school students passed the end-of-course reading exam. Among Black students, 65 percent passed, up from 59 percent two years ago.
Silas Kulkarni, a literacy specialist for Student Achievement Partners of New York City, said literacy allows people to support a family, maintain a high-wage job and vote.
“Modern jobs such as a medical technician and a mechanic require a stringent amount of reading,” said Kulkarni, who provides literacy support and training for teachers across the country. “In order to comprehend text, you can’t be looking up every single word and keep track of what you are doing and reading. You must have knowledge to understand what you are reading.”
Back in Landover, students and teachers chanted, “Let’s read Raptors, let’s read!” near the FedEx Field parking lot while passing drivers waved their hands in support.
“We want our teachers and parents to continue [with] what we started [Nov. 10],” said Cora Rice principal Mattie Turman. “We have the next five to six months in school to promote this and it’s not just for fun. We want to make sure that we continue on with the urgency of literacy and reading.”