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Report: San Joaquin County literacy rates are below the state average

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Lynn Beck

Posted: Friday, September 20, 2013 12:00 am

In a Lodi Unified School District classroom of 30 third-graders, only 10 are considered proficient in English-language arts, according to findings released by University of the Pacific on Thursday.

Researchers found that countywide, third-graders’ literacy rates have dropped since last year.

The information comes from the second annual literacy report card, part of the university’s Beyond our Gates community outreach program launched by President Pamela Eibeck last year. The effort includes community forums and county leader think tanks.

“This gives us our marching orders,” Lynn Beck, dean of Pacific’s Benerd School of Education, said in a news release. “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,” Beck added.

A Lodi Unified representative could not be reached late Thursday.

The county’s annual report card is just one element 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, a 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.

In San Joaquin County, only 34 percent of county third-graders tested at a proficient level in English-language arts on the California Standards Test administered last 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), as well as the state as a whole (46 percent).

Beck said the economic downturn likely played a role in the decline in third-grade English language proficiency, noting that scores declined across California, but said 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.

“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.”

But third-graders aren’t alone.

A study conducted earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy found 32 million adults nationwide, or 14 percent of the population, can’t read.

Of those who can, 21 percent read below a fifth-grade level.

The current literacy rate hasn’t improved in the past 10 years, either. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (completed most recently in 2003, and before that, in 1992), 14 percent of adult Americans demonstrated a “below basic” literacy level in 2003, and 29 percent exhibited a “basic” reading level. The 2013 San Joaquin Literacy Report Card will be released to the public during a Beyond Our Gates Dialogue event today at the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

For more information about the university’s outreach, visit www.beyondourgates.org.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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