♪♪ The ability to read is a gift that many of us take for granted.
A child who cannot read may never reach their life's potential.
Joining us today, in collaboration with the American Leadership Forum, to discuss the importance of mastering basic literacy is April Javist of the Sacramento Literacy Foundation and Michael Lynch of Improve Your Tomorrow.
April, who are the kids and communities that are most impacted by lower levels of literacy?
To be honest, um, all kids are impacted by low... low literacy levels, um, and it... it does cut through stratification, through demographics.
Um, right now in Sacramento, 37% of our kids across the county are at grade level reading, and every district has kids who are really struggling hard.
OK. And, uh, if you compare that to pre-pandemic, how has, uh, literacy been impacted by the onset of the last two and a half, three years of kids doing distanced learning, uh, and other modalities to make up for in-person education?
That's a- That's kind of the question of the moment right now.
What- You know, what is the impact of COVID-19?
And measurably-speaking, according to the standardized testing, we see a 6.7% loss.
But what's not in that measurement- and... and that's a loss in reading levels.
What's not in that measurement are the high level of kids who are truant right now, which has more than doubled since COVID-19.
And... and probably, those kids didn't take the test.
So, that's not in that- in... in that measure.
I think the silver lining of COVID is it showed everybody that we're failing at teaching kids to read.
And we were failing before the pandemic, and we're failing now.
But there are some solutions and people are starting to really put their head on it because COVID showed us, showed parents a lot of where their kids were really at, as they tried to help them at their desks or with the home tests- those kind of things- really was a big reveal, I think, for everybody.
Michael, your work, uh, focuses around young people that are a little bit older than the grade school kids that April is... is speaking about.
By the time they interact with you and Improve Your Tomorrow, what have been the consequences if they don't have basic literacy proficiency?
We're seeing the aftereffects.
So, if a young person is not getting the support they need in first and second and third grade, we're getting them in middle school where they're already severely deficient.
So, let's say, for example, a kid can't, or is not able to read at grade level.
He's in class.
He's going to be a little more disconnected.
If he already has obstacles going on at home, behavior may be a concern.
Because that kid can't read, he's not connected in class, he gets in trouble, he gets suspended.
A kid who is suspended is more likely to drop out of high school A kid who drops out of high school is more likely to have all the negative sort of effects that we don't want in society.
So, if a kid can't read, we're seeing all of the effects which happen afterwards.
It... it's interesting what you're saying, because I would have never made the automatic association between reading proficiency and some of the other behavioral issues that schools are also focused on at this time.
April, I'm curious, what is it like for a child to not be able to keep up with their peers in class and... and... and feel like they're not able to master the material?
I've thought about that child a lot- right?
- as I've been on this journey to see what we can do to get and to support all kids to get to grade level reading.
And I think that kid has an enormous amount of staying power.
I mean, here they are in a... in a classroom when they... they are not understanding 50% of the information and they're struggling and they're embarrassed to talk about it.
But yet, they come to class every day and they go through this struggle- how many hours?
- maybe 5 hours a day.
That is- That just- I...
I don't think I would have done that, if... if... if that had happened to me.
I was, you know, in that group of people of "one out of three brains will read, no matter what," very fortunate, um, and that's irregardless of intelligence.
One out of kid- One out of three kids will need support.
Um, and a... and an... and an exact curriculum, and one out of three kids will just need the exact curriculum.
But if I were that kid, I don't know if I would have the staying power that they have.
I have a lot of respect for these kids.
And I hope that...
I hope that what happens is some of them begin to help us think about how to educate better.
Give us a sense of the difference between someone who- a child who hasn't received the right resources and a child who has a learning disability, because sometimes, uh, the... the community just assumes that if a child is not reading proficiently at a certain age level, that it's a disability.
How do professionals, uh, make that distinction?
So, dyslexia has been categorized as a disability.
Some think it's just like a thyroid problem, you know, that you just- your... your numbers are different.
And so, it's on a continuum.
I think de... detecting those, um, those differences is... is on the agenda for sure, right now.
SCOE are- Sacramento County Office of Education is working now on developing an early detection, uh, process for dyslexia across the state.
Um, but it's just detecting what kids need earlier on.
We don't really learn about what kids need or where they're at in reading until they've taken a test at the end of the third grade that sees that.
So, that, often, is the first time that even parents learn, "Oh, my kid is struggling."
They're not proficient.
Um, and that's... that's where we get the testing data from... And Scott, that's interesting, 'cause that... that... that, to me, is the major challenge.
You know, like, at Improve Your Tomorrow, we support a lot of kids who identified as special education.
So, they have an individual education plan and they're- but they're... they're tracked in it later.
For whatever reason, like, they're tracked in it later, and they're not provided the support that they need when they're in first or second or third grade.
But even if you are identified as special education doesn't always mean you get the resources.
And, for me, what is always, to me, like, a shocker is, like, Black males are over-identified as special education, so- 'cause oftentimes, what they correlate it to is some sort of behavior challenge.
So, you... you get all these different factors along the way that will inhibit your ability to be able to read at grade level, which means that, you know, you may not be as phenomenal the student as you can.
You know, let's drill down on that a... a... a little bit, Michael.
Your program is widely acclaimed and acknowledged as being able to take, uh, young people, particularly young men from traditionally dis... disadvantaged backgrounds and move them on to a life path where it is that they've got possibilities in terms of education and then, beyond that, careers.
When you hear their stories, what do you hear- Are there any commonalities that come up, uh, in their stories that talk about what the root causes are of why they were challenged so much in the first place?
Yeah, there's typically three variables, they're almost... almost always.
Uh, two, like, the state of the family unit.
So, the- Like, one parent is gone.
Most of the time, it's the father.
And three, like, is violence.
Violence in or around the community, that creates trauma.
When you have those three underlying or overlying sort of challenges, it is- it's more difficult for the kid to show up prepared to be able to go to school.
So, poverty is correlated with not having, like, the food resources and housing.
I mean, during the pandemic, we had... we had young people who were living in two bedroom apartments full of eight people.
How can you possibly focus- right?
- through a computer for Zoom if you have eight people in a two bedroom home, with four of them also on the same computer, or... or nearby, going to school?
April, one thing that I'm curious about- In Michael's explanation, he didn't mention the... the schools.
So, I want to know what role the schools play in either delivering the support that kids need within our... our communities or what it is that they're lacking, uh, in terms of their own support.
Can... can you give us a... a little bit of insight on that?
I just really quickly, though, want to also follow up on what Michael said.
We do have the data here in Sacramento that shows a strong statistical correlation between kids who are hungry and kids who are not reading.
Tell us more about that.
Um, it's- We just did the data.
We ran it on the free and reduced meal program data that we gathered and the CSAP data, and there's a strong correlation, statistically speaking, um, between kids who are hungry and kids who are not reading.
There's a strong correlation to nearly every positive and negative life outcome for kids who are reading and not reading.
It is the equity scale.
So, what are schools doing?
Um, I think...
I think what... what's happening right now in the schools- um, and it's- if it's happening, it's happening at the district level- is that schools are considering the... the failures that we're looking at because of COVID in reading, and they're realizing just how important reading is.
Uh, our own LeVar Burton just produced a movie called The Right to Read, uh, 'one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time.'
So, I think that that effort is shifting, um, its focus from education to equity, which is really important because if you can't read, you're not going to get in the voting booth.
That is the bottom line.
And so, um, if we want everybody voting and participating- which I do- we've got to get 'em reading.
So, schools are thinking about how to bring in curriculum that's working right now.
I think, um, we can really look at Twin Rivers.
It's really looking at teacher training, um, and evidence-based curriculum, uh, which is a set science, uh, curriculum that gets amazing results.
Um, and there's lots of different- Tell us about these results.
What- You say they're amazing.
- Tell us more.
I can- I'll...
I'll give you Mississippi, which is my favorite example, um, which is that in 2015, they passed policy statewide to introduce the Science of Reading evidence-based curriculum into all kindergarten through second grade classrooms.
Pre-COVID, they tested.
So, remember, we tested at 44%, pre-COVID.
They tested at 85%, pre-COVID.
- 85% of their third graders, after three years of this set science, were reading at grade level.
I mean, that's a pizza party for the whole- for all the third graders, I think, in Mississippi.
Um, that's really an accomplishment that- It... it just should be, like, the... the thing in all of the- The... the news... the newspapers should be talking about that, and how can we all follow?
Locally, what's working?
Is there- Are there any examples, uh, of either school districts or schools where you see the type of program you're describing in Mississippi, uh, having impact?
Yeah, I think we're starting to see Twin Rivers introduce the Science of Reading through their teacher training, which is a very, very big part of teaching kids, is teaching the teachers the... the Science of Reading as well.
Um, putting that kind of, uh, learning into college programs is... is... is a task in and of itself.
Um, I think that, uh, we have other... other- The other districts don't necessarily operate district-wide together.
So, you have little pieces of schools here and there.
SCOE's, uh, running a grant for- There was a right to- Who's SCOE?
SCOE- Sacramento County Office of Education, and they're running the $50 million grant that's going to the 79 schools at the bottom, um, because of a lawsuit.
And they're really working hard at bringing evidence-based practices to those schools as well.
Um, so, those are the places, I think, that we're seeing some... some movement, but I think we'll see a lot more.
Um, I think things are changing.
Um, the fact that we're on this show is... is a... is a part of that.
Yeah, give us- Take us back to the beginning.
One of the things that, uh, I've heard in... in many different venues is that third grade is a magic time.
What is it about reading at grade level or being proficient by third grade?
What makes that so important?
Michael, I saw you wanted to say something.
You want to take that question and say whatever you wanted to say?
- You... you go- Right, Scott.
I have a six year old, and we talk about, like, third grade and being ready for third grade and that being so important.
My six year old, for math- She's in first grade.
Like, for math, most of her math problems are word problems.
So, if you don't show up to school able to learn or able to know your ABCs and all these different foundational phonetics and all these different foundational elements, you are not even able to do first grade math.
So, you... you... you fast-forward three years into school, you're in third grade, not able to read at grade level, which means you also aren't proficient in math.
You aren't proficient in writing.
My... my daughter's writing topic sentences in- like, in first grade.
So, you... you can't do any of that by... by third grade.
So, you know, it's so important to make sure- 'cause that... that's the cut off, right?
That- From there- I think April always says it.
You... you learn to read and then- What was the saying, April?
You learn to read up to the third grade- or you're supposed to- and then, in the fourth grade, you read to learn.
Explain what that really means.
Well, in the fourth grade, you are not learning to read anymore.
Nobody's helping you decode words.
Nobody's going over the... the... the reading assignments, read out loud.
What they're saying is read the word problem and answer the question.
Read the essay and write some sentences about that.
So... so, help us understand, um, a... a common- maybe it's a myth- but a statement which is, sometimes, um, observers of a particular child will say, "Well, you know, they're... they're just starting off slow, but they're going to catch up," and it's not necessarily taken all that seriously.
What I'm hearing from both of you is that, no, that's extremely serious.
The... the other thing that I would just mention is there's an incredible focus on STEM related to, you know, math and science, and that if... if a child can master math and science, you know, everything else kind of comes secondary.
Give us a little bit of insight into how math and science are related to reading proficiency.
Well, Scott, April, If I can- Could I- I think this is a part of, uh, my- uh, like- so, how boys and girls, like, develop mentally- So, given that girls are proven to develop faster, they can often- right?
- have this expedient nature to be able to just- a higher likelihood- right?
- to be able to be proficient, whereas boys, like, develop a little slower.
And I see it...
I see it in my own kids.
So, I think what- the challenge in schools is because, like, it is... like, it's a cookie cutter model.
There... there's not a lot of ability to provide the individual help, which means in the work that we do, like, to support young men of color, we see boys who... who enter school not prepared, who are in school not at grade level, then eventually have all the other, like, negative, like, life outcomes because in schools, we don't- we treat them exactly the same.
My six year old daughter and my four year old boy are two drastically different people in the way they learn.
My daughter, from when she was four, we could sit down with her and we can do all the... all the phonics, all the being able to understand words.
My four year old, at the same age my daughter was, is not able to yet, but yet, they will both be six year old in first grade.
So, how do you developmentally adjust for boys and girls?
I don't think we have- We have not gotten that right yet.
Okay, April, uh, anything you want to add on that one?
Well, I want to...
I want to turn this back and... and look at, uh, what might be, April, some of the special challenges of limited English proficiency students who are speaking English as a second language coming from their homes?
Uh, are they- Is the way to address their reading proficiency identical to students who- for whom English is their first language?
Well, that is a really good question and... and fairly, um, if you start to dig underneath it, one of- one- at... at the bottom of one of the big controversies.
Um, I think that, um, the following is true.
Phonemic awareness, which is the... the- which is the ability to hear sounds, which is one of the things that kids who can't read struggle with.
They might have had a... a kind of an ear infection as a kid, ongoing thing, or maybe they are speaking two languages, and so they have two sets of phonemes that they're trying to address.
So, I think that what the real issue isn't so much "Are the kids struggling?"
or "Can they all learn the same way?"
'cause probably, they can.
It's "Can we create the same curriculum in various languages to help kids all learn the same way?"
I mean, that's- That- It.. it's really on us, not the kids.
But yes, all kids can learn the same way.
There is a set way to just pull apart sounds.
So, like... like "cat."
"C-ah-t" has... has three sounds.
Put a cat next to that and those sounds.
And then talk about "hat" and then talk about "mat."
And then, you know, maybe, in a year, you're putting letters to that "cat" and that "hat" and that "mat."
And... and this is the process of developing decoding.
It's... it's called decoding... -Mmhmm.
- We... we did that as kids, you and I, Scott.
I don't know, Michael, you're much younger than us.
And I'm not sure you got real decoding growing up, but we did, as kids.
You know, "When in doubt, sound it out."
That was really a big... a big part of our learning.
Um, and so, I think that, yeah, all brains can learn equally.
I think that it's can we... can we learn how to teach all brains equally?
I think that's really a question.
Michael, for... for the young men that you're working with in IYT, if they don't have that proficiency, but they've got a strong desire, how does your program and... and programs like yours, how do you get these young people what they need so that then they can have the benefit of all the other services that you provide?
I think April said it best where she said all kids can learn at the same level.
So, for us, you know, we get, like, our young men in all various different stages.
Some are proficient in school.
Some are excelling, but a lot of them are... are struggling.
So, for us, the first thing that we do is build a significant relationship.
You know, our- we have a mentorship-based college access and completion program and we believe no significant change happens without significant relationships.
So, we build a significant relationship with a young person, and then, the challenge that we see a lot with our kids is that, like, they were thinking only about today.
So, their decisions that they make are only about today, not about what happens in the future.
So, we have to get them to, like, to futurecast.
That's why we go on college tours, and career exploration and then give them all the different phenomenal events.
Typically, between those two things of college tours, mentorship, with some additional tutoring, we see young people transform- transform, where they go from 1.0s to 4.0s, college graduates, working in professional settings, places where they now have generationally changed their... their life outcomes, like, for their kids and their grandkids.
April, what's the impact of technology on reading literacy among school-age children?
You know, I don't...
I don't know the exact answer to that.
I know a lot of parents feel like their kids are a little in the... in the phone.
Um, I think that my kid learned how to spell by texting.
So, I don't know.
I think that there's- I think there's good things and I think there's bad things about technology.
Well, the reason I'm asking the question is because, um, there are stories in... in the popular media that talk about how, uh, the interaction with technology is helping to... to spur children's cognitive development, so, cell phones and iPads are actually good things.
But I'm trying to get to the reality as to whether or not those things actually play a... a positive or a negative role in children's cognitive development as they try to move toward reading proficiency.
I think Michael would be able to answer that better.
What the data says- I mean, just on a soft side- I think that the data says, like, for the last 20 years, we've failed at kids reading.
So, 20 years ago, they didn't have all these devices and now, they do.
So, I think the failure's remained intact, in terms of the reading level.
It's been about at 35% nationally for this whole period.
So, I don't know if there's any research out there to say that technology has furthered or... or... or de... decreased, uh, reading levels, but I think maybe on the social side, which is where Michael's talking more, it... it might- it- there might be showing a bigger impact.
I don't know.
Michael would be- Michael, do you have a point of view on that one?
I think, you know, we're... we're going to have to meet kids where they are.
Like, they are- their phone is right here.
There is... there is no way to take away a kid's phone, especially starting in middle school.
So, if we want 'em to going to be able to tackle, like, the literacy gap- even, like, working towards some of the kids who are not able to read when they're, you know, 12, 13, et cetera- you... you can start to parse about meeting them where... where they're at with their phone.
Then, that can be able to be some skills because you're just- Like, today I'm...
I'm around- When I was in high school, you couldn't even have phones out.
They would... they would take your phone.
Now, phones are everywhere.
98% of kids, despite income level, have a phone and they have sort of access to the internet through their phone.
So, if we can figure out how to meet them where they are, at their phone, and give them some of the skills and resources, support, like, you should be able to see, like, growth.
Uh, but... but the problem is most... most times, again, like, schools aren't going to, uh, be able to mold to what the young person sort of needs or wants or even, oftentimes, what's effective.
They're going to think about what has happened in the past, not about what strategy can we use today?
I feel like we need a reading app that is as fun as Pokémon Go or Fortnight that has kids leveling up and getting all kinds of rewards and- I mean, what... what we need is an app developer and a company interested in that.
But there's a way that I think we can take this moment and build something for kids that would also help them read, and be fun, and be in their- in... in their range.
So, that's my pitch to anybody out there.
And I think that we'll leave it there.
And that's our show.
Thanks to our guests and thanks to you for watching Studio Sacramento.
I'm Scott Syphax.
See you next time right here on KVIE.
♪♪ All episodes of Studio Sacramento, along with other KVIE programs, are available to watch online at kvie.org/video.