I recently learned the results of Nebraska’s first statewide reading assessment. I must admit that the test itself didn’t actually catch my attention until I received my own children’s scores in the mail. As a long-standing early literacy advocate and someone who read literally tens of thousands of pages aloud to my children even before they could read for themselves, I am proud to report that all three scored very well.
Unfortunately, I find it difficult to celebrate my own children’s reading success in light of how the rest of our state’s children scored. Sure, results released in August revealed that nearly 70 percent of Nebraska’s third through eighth grade and 11th grade public school students scored in a range that met or exceeded expectations, but that 70 percent doesn’t tell the whole story.
Last Friday, Joe Dejka and Paul Goodsell shared the rest of the story with Omaha World Herald readers in their article, Reading gap called troubling. In it, they paint a much more dismal picture, simply by offering a more detailed look at the test results: Fewer than half of Nebraska’s Hispanic, black and American Indian students can read proficiently – a number that is in stark contrast to the three out of four white students taking the same test. When poverty was factored into the equation, low-income students also were found to have scored significantly lower than their more well-to-do classmates (on the order of 53 percent compared to 80 percent, respectively).
So why should you or I find the results of Nebraska’s first statewide reading assessment so distressing? In addition to the obvious racial, ethnic and socio-economic disparities, the fact of the matter is that the ability to read matters. A lot. Learning to read, learning to love to read, and the ability to read well all play a fundamentally key role in children’s future school and life success. In fact, it is often said that children spend the first several years learning to read, and the rest of their lives reading to learn. Yet Nebraska is not the only state with a reading gap, as an estimated 34% of American children enter kindergarten without even the basic language skills needed to learn to read, and fewer than half of parents read to their young children daily.
Now for the good news: we already know what works when it comes to preparing America’s youngest children to succeed in school, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Reach Out and Read. By partnering with doctors who prescribe developmentally-appropriate books, encourage families to read together beginning at birth, and advise parents about the importance of reading aloud – this national non-profit organization now offers us all an effective, evidence-based model that reaches nearly 4 million children each year, with a particular focus on those living in poverty.
As a pediatrician who had the good fortune to train with one of the founders of Reach Out and Read nearly two decades ago and has championed the cause ever since, I hope you’ll not only commit to helping your own children learn to love to read, but also commit to helping close Nebraska’s reading gap.
The following are a few simple but important Reach Out and Read tips to help get all children started on the path to lifelong learning and success:
- Host a book-themed baby shower.
- Make reading books to your child a part of your daily routine.
- Make reading fun: hold your child on your lap when you read stories together, point to the pictures, let your toddler fill in the ends of your sentences, and be willing to read the same book (or page) over and over again.
- Ask your two-year old questions about the story.
- Relate what you read to your child’s own experiences.
- Visit reachoutandread.org to find out more about the developmental milestones of early literacy, recommended book lists, and information about Reach Out and Read programs right here in Nebraska.
- Consider supporting organizations such as Reach Out and Read and play a role in helping all children reach their full potential.
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska