Elijah Mitchell, a fourth-grader in the Lodi Unified School District, reads to students of the El Concilio Preschool on Farmington Road in Stockton. University of the Pacific was at the preschool to release San Joaquin Literacy Report Card 2013.
San Joaquin County Literacy Report Card shows progress, challengesEnglish proficiency fell, but preschool enrollment climbed – and fewer kids were truant
English proficiency has dropped slightly among third-graders in San Joaquin County, while library book-borrowing - a key indicator of a community's literacy - remains stuck at less than half the statewide average, according to University of the Pacific's second annual San Joaquin Literacy Report Card.
The 2013 report card also points to progress: Truancy among K-12 students edged down, with 28.5 percent of students having three or more unexcused absences during the school year, compared with 30 percent the year before. Preschool enrollment jumped more than 4 percentage points, with 46.3 percent of all 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled, up from 42 percent. And the proportion of babies born to women without a high school diploma fell 7 percentage points, from 30 percent of all births to 23 percent.
"Clearly, much work remains, but we are beginning to see encouraging developments," said Pacific President Pamela A. Eibeck, who launched the report card last year as part of the University's Beyond Our Gates Reading by Third initiative, a collaborative effort that unites some 50 community partners in an effort to improve early literacy in San Joaquin County and ensure that more children succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, career and active citizenship.
Studies have shown that the ability to read proficiently by the end of third grade is a critical milestone on a child's educational path. And it's one that too many San Joaquin County students fail to reach.
The report card released today shows that overall in San Joaquin County, only 34 percent of county third-graders tested proficient in English language arts on the California Standards Test administered this spring. That's down from 36 percent the year before and well behind nearby counties, such as Sacramento (42 percent this year) and Alameda (52 percent), and the state as a whole (46 percent).
"This gives us our marching orders," said Lynn Beck, dean of Pacific's Gladys L. Benerd School of Education. "If a child has not mastered reading by third grade, it's not impossible to catch up - but the odds drop dramatically. An educated population is foundational to everything else that we want to do in our community, whether it's improving health, strengthening the economy or attracting new jobs. And ensuring that our children can read by third grade is foundational to having an educated population."
Imagine a classroom of 30 third-graders. A 34-percent English language arts proficiency rate means that in San Joaquin County, only 10 of those third-graders are reading at grade level.
The rest, research suggests, are more likely to fall behind in school - and even to drop out. (Among San Joaquin County's largest school districts, third-grade language-arts proficiency ranges widely: 22 percent in Stockton Unified, 32 percent in Manteca Unified, 33 percent in Lodi Unified, 40 percent in Tracy Unified, and 43 percent in Lincoln Unified).
Library books borrowed per capita remained at 2.7 per person in San Joaquin County, in the face of significant reductions in library hours and resources. Statewide, Californians borrow about 6.4 books per capita.
The rise in preschool enrollment and decline in births to mothers without high school diplomas are trends that hold particular promise for the county and its future. Kids who attend preschool are better prepared with the skills they need to become strong readers in the future. And women who delay childbearing until they have earned an education are less likely to experience poverty, one of the greatest risk factors for dropping out of high school.
"Too many children - especially children from low-income families - are already behind when they start kindergarten," said Gricelda Mitchell, preschool program director for El Concilio, a partner in the Beyond Our Gates initiative. "Preschool gives children a solid foundation for reading success and helps parents learn what they can do to support literacy at home."
|Lynn Beck, dean of the Gladys L. Benerd
School of Education at University of the
Pacific, highlights the accomplishments of
Elijah Mitchell, who just days earlier had
received a student award for reading and
language arts. Beck and Mitchell were visiting
the El Concilio Preschool on Farmington Road
in Stockton to release San Joaquin Literacy
Report Card 2013.
Beck said the economic downturn likely played a role in the decline in third grade English language proficiency, noting that scores declined across California.
"Parents were being laid off and losing their homes," she said. "It became harder for families to afford preschool. School budgets were cut. Class sizes got larger, teachers turned over more frequently, summer programs were eliminated. All of this was likely a contributing factor."
It is a testament to San Joaquin County's parents, teachers and community organizations that the other literacy indicators improved or remained the same despite the weak economy, Beck said.
The 2013 San Joaquin Literacy Report Card will be released to the public during a Beyond Our Gates Dialogue event that will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Sept. 20 at the San Joaquin County Office of Education, 2707 Transworld Drive in Stockton. The Dialogue's keynote speaker is Alison Gopnik. An internationally recognized expert on children's learning and development, Gopnik is the author of The Scientist in the Crib and The Philosophical Baby. The Dialogue is free and open to the public.
About Beyond Our Gates
Beyond Our Gates represents University of the Pacific's commitment to work with community partners to improve the social and economic health in Stockton and San Joaquin County. University President Pamela A. Eibeck convened a series of public forums in 2010 to discuss the community's most urgent problems and to begin considering solutions. Through these continuing conversations, education emerged as a pressing challenge and the most promising means of enhancing quality of life. Beyond Our Gates strives to do that through such projects as Reading By Third, Tomorrow Project academies for elementary and high school students, and through ongoing community engagement via the Beyond Our Gates Community Council. For more information, visit BeyondOurGates.org.