Louisiana has just received some more encouraging news on the education front. The National Council on Teacher Quality released a new study that shows Louisiana is one of the top states in the country for teacher preparation programs focused on early reading. That’s important because if we are going to continue to move our children up the education ladder, early literacy is one of the keys.
In recent years, there has been a growing understanding that children who are not able to read by the time they complete third grade run a much greater risk of dropping out of school than those who are proficient readers. That leads to lifelong consequences. In a state where more than 300,000 working-age adults have no high school degree, third grade reading is an indicator we need to pay attention to.
Third grade is critical because it’s typically the last year where students “learn to read.” In fourth grade they begin “reading to learn.” There are many keys to ensuring third grade reading proficiency, but one of the most important ones is how we teach our kids to read.
The study by the National Council on Teacher Quality looked at the college education programs in all 50 states with a specific focus on how they prepare aspiring teachers to teach reading to young children. They base their review on what’s called the “science of reading.” That approach places an emphasis on five key areas:
- Phonemic awareness – the relationship between sounds and spoken words
- Phonics – the relationship between sounds and letters
- Fluency – the ability to read like you speak
- Vocabulary – the words a student can read and understand
- Comprehension – knowing the meaning of words and how they are used in expression
Louisiana finished number six in high-quality teacher preparation for reading – virtually tied with three of the states ahead of it. All but one of the state’s traditional certification programs at public universities earned grades of A or B, with Nicholls State University identified as one of 15 programs across the country to earn an A+. Both Grambling and Northwestern State University were recognized as being “consistently high-performing” undergraduate programs and the University of New Orleans was acknowledged for its high-performing graduate program.
It is hard to link student performance outcomes to any one thing, but it is worth noting that Louisiana is one of the few states that has seen consistent improvement in reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Over the last decade Louisiana ranks 7th in 4th grade reading and 5th in 8th grade reading for improvement in the percentage of students reading at the proficient level.
Louisiana still has much to do to increase the reading skills of its student. Yet, it’s important to pause from time to time to acknowledge that we are instituting promising policies and making progress in a state where almost 30-percent of our children live in poverty. It’s also a reminder of how important a child’s early years are and why we must continue to increase our focus on our youngest children to ensure they have the opportunities they all deserve to learn and succeed in life.