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The Earlier, the better

When the MCAS scores were released last month, there was much to celebrate. Massachusetts’ tenth grades did well. Math, English Language Arts and Sciences scores rose. But there was also worrying news: 3rd graders’ reading proficiency is getting worse and persistent achievement gaps still exist.

Among children from low-income families, a staggering 65% lag in reading. And for many reasons, that is cause for action. Children who are not proficient readers by third grade are likely to remain poor readers through high school and tend to have more social and behavioral problems than their peers. A student who is not at least a moderately capable reader by the end of third grade is less likely to earn a high school diploma.

Early education and early literacy is fundamental to future student success. Closing the achievement gap and getting all kids to proficient is one of the Governor’s top priorities. He has persistently pressed for greater investment in early education as a vital component of our efforts to improve life outcomes for our Commonwealth’s youngest citizens.  The Patrick Administration, the legislature and other state leaders have launched several initiatives aimed at tackling this critical challenge.

One important initiative is the Early Literacy Expert Panel, which was established in the 2012 Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency. Its purpose is to develop potential new policies aimed at getting all students to read proficiently by the end of third grade. The panel members, appointed by Secretary of Education Matthew Malone in September, represent deep expertise in a range of perspectives, including representatives from school, medical, community-based and family-focused organizations. The Panel is co-chaired by Secretary Malone and Nonie Lesaux, Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a national expert on reading development.

This panel represents a significant opportunity to cut across our the boundaries of policy, academics and practice to work collaboratively to discuss and develop potential new policies in six different areas: 1) strategies for evaluating the effectiveness of curricula for children in early education and care programs through third grade, 2) determining effective instructional practices 3) pre-service training and professional development for early educators 4) screening and assessment to monitor and report on children’s progress, 5) strategies for establishing family partnership to improve the quality, frequency and efficacy of home-school interactions, and 6) action steps to implement research-based recommendations.

Stay tuned for the Early Literacy Panel’s action-oriented report, to be released in late spring 2014.

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