Third-grade students throughout San Joaquin County still struggle with mastering reading skills needing for future academic success according to the University of the Pacific’s fourth-annual San Joaquin Literacy Report Card.

Only 27 percent of San Joaquin third-graders showed grade-level proficiency on literacy portions of California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CASPP), the state test that measures student achievement against the new Common Core standards.

Statewide, 38 percent of third-graders did.

In Lodi Unified School District, 31 percent of third-graders scored at or above grade level in English Language Arts.

“The CASPP scores are disappointing because we know how hard teachers are working,” said Cathy Nichols-Washer, superintendent of the Lodi Unified School District.

The district has many programs in place to promote literacy especially among young students who are in critical need of developing reading skills early.

Substantial research exists showing that students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade have a much higher chance of having challenges in school throughout their educational careers, Nichols-Washer said.

Because of this, the district has put many resources to promoting literacy in the classroom. Most districts in California are in the process of putting together new English language arts programs based on the new state standards, Nichols-Washer said.

In addition, all kindergarten through second-grade classes are using a computer-based reading program called iRead as a support program for regular instruction. Students learn the alphabet, words and spelling through games and activities at an individualized pace.

“It is important to note that these programs do not replace teacher instruction, they complement it,” Nichols-Washer said.

During after school programs, students receive tutoring and homework help. They also receive plenty of support from community groups, according to Nichols-Washer.

Through Partners in Education (PIE), business leaders and community members have volunteered to help students with reading. The Mamas and Papas serve as role models and tutors for students in the After School programs. The Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club has adopted schools and put programs in place to help struggling students improve their reading, writing and speaking skills. For many years, the Lodi Rotary Club has given dictionaries to all third grade students. The Junior League of San Joaquin County has donated iPads and Chromebooks to several classrooms. Twin Arbors Athletic Club and the Michael David Family Foundation are also strong supporters of education and have provided funds to support literacy efforts, Nichols-Washer said.

The district’s own nonprofit, the GOT Kids Foundation, also has a hand in promoting literacy for students.

GOT Kids and Steve Diede of Diede Construction have funded the My Books program, Nichols-Washer said. Parents are invited to a My Books event to learn the importance of reading and how they can share books with their children. Each parent is given a hard-copy edition of the book that was used during the event to add to their book collection at home (or to start one).

However, some of the work in making sure third-graders are reading at grade level can be done at home.

“One way for all children to improve in reading, writing and speaking skills is to read at home. The more a child reads, the better reader he or she becomes,” Nichols-Washer said. “Parents can help by reading with their children or by ensuring that there is quiet time every day for children to read.”

With these results, those at Pacific behind the literacy report card acknowledged that the scores were expected to be lower with a new test and new standards. Nichols-Washer also pointed out that many students in Lodi Unified are identified as English language learners and may need more time to become proficient in the language.

Despite the low numbers in third-grade literacy, the report also showed that truancy rates in the county fell to 24 percent, down from 25 percent last year and nearly 30 percent the year before. Preschool enrollment was up to 42 percent from 34 percent the previous year, the report said. The numbers are significant because students who attend preschool are better prepared with the skills they need to become strong readers, the report said.

The district acknowledges that the work they’ve put in has to continue to ensure students are well-prepared for their educational careers from a young age.

“No one will say that the CASPP results are satisfactory,” Nichols-Washer said. “We all see that there is great work to be done. And, we all must work together to ensure that the children in our community will be proficient readers. Their futures depend on it.”

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodinews.com.

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