OUR VIEW: Middle school reading scores still concerning

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, March 24, 2021

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Most of last week’s school board meeting focused on mid-year assessments from Reading Inventory and iReading. The assessments are administered at the start of the school year, giving the Troup County School System baseline data, and again in the winter and at the end of the year.

TCSS is then able to compare the scores and see if students are gaining or losing ground.

There was some good progress discussed, with the all-important elementary school reading scores improving across the various grade levels. We all all-important because reading is the basis for all learning, so if students are doing well early on, they should be set up to succeed in all subjects as they grow older.

But even in elementary school, there’s a ton of work to do. For instance, only 28 percent of first graders are considered to be on grade level in reading. Thirty six percent of second graders are on grade level in reading. Forty-five percent of third graders… and the list goes on and on. There’s work to do.

We do think the climb across those grades shows that the new curriculums, such as iReady and Reading Inventory, are making a difference. It’s not going to happen overnight.

Unfortunately, middle school remains a different story.

According to iReady data, 45 percent of eighth grade students are three or more grade levels behind in reading. That means close to half of eighth graders are reading at a fifth-grade level or worse. Time to make a difference is running out, as in five years, those students will hopefully be graduated and entering the workforce.

And we’re not picking on eighth grade. The seventh-grade numbers are comparable, with 47 percent of students showing they are three-plus grade levels behind in reading.

It’s easy to say that the numbers aren’t good enough, and we should expect better. Of course, they aren’t good enough. Of course, we should want better for our kids.

We’ve seen data and heard enough planning from Superintendent Brian Shumate, Assistant Superintendent Penny Johnson, and others that we know reading scores are a gigantic focus for TCSS and that there’s confidence that scores are going to improve, especially for students who are entering the school system now as new curriculums really start to make a difference. (Of course, we’ll also be able to look back in a few years and see if that’s the case.)

At the board meeting, there was a presentation about a summer camp initiative for elementary school students, and additional plans will be announced for middle school students in the weeks ahead.

The summer camp is a great idea, and we’ll be anxious to hear what’s planned for middle school and how TCSS plans to get students to participate. It’s important to remember that there’s no magic fix that will suddenly get all students reading on grade level or above. If there was, it would’ve been used a long time ago by school systems across the country.  And this year is even more challenging than most years with the pandemic and many students who need extra instruction in virtual classes. With that said, progress must be made. The future of our students is counting on it.