Chipping Away at the Achievement Gap

Early Childhood Literacy, Educators, Family & Educator Partnerships | 11/16/2017

Jennifer Simmons-Lowe
Fourth Grade Teacher

Ms. Simmons-Lowe teaches fourth graders on the south side of Chicago.

As a teacher at a school on the south side of Chicago serving mainly low-income students, I know first-hand that while Chicago’s high school graduation rates are rising, there is still much to be done to close the achievement gap between wealthier and poorer students.

I was delighted this summer to participate in Stand for Children’s innovative reading program that tackled “summer learning loss” – the situation students, particularly those in underserved communities, run into when school ends and summer begins. The research is clear that even the hardest working students fall behind significantly compared to kids from more affluent areas because of the lack of enriching summer experiences.

The program involved two cohorts of students and their parents, and I was the Reading Coach for several third through eighth graders who hail from communities like Englewood, South Shore, and Bronzeville, and from schools such as Sherman, Holmes, Doolittle, and LEARN South Chicago. Stand’s program combined parent engagement with an adaptive literacy platform known as LightSail. And Stand, the parents, and I were partners in supporting the students as they read books on iPads for about 30 minutes, several days a week.

Listen to what students accomplish when provided with an effective program and the encouragement of their parents. Generally speaking, a student’s average reading skills will grow about 2.3 Lexile Growth points per week. Reading skills across the two cohorts grew at a jaw-dropping average rate of 15.4 Lexile Growth points per week! Read that again – 2.3 is the expected rate; these students had 15.4 points.

Now that school is in full swing, we’ve been hearing wonderful reports of how these students are continuing to flourish – stories like how one student’s NWEA scores improved this fall compared to last spring, and how another student’s reading has improved so much that she is back in the regular classroom and no longer needs to receive reading interventions.

This program shows that when students are excited about reading, when their parents work with them to improve their literacy skills, and when parents harness their power to be strong advocates for their kids, great things can and do happen. We have to keep chipping away at the persistent achievement gap, and programs like summer reading with Stand for Children can play a big role.

Thank you to my wonderful students, to their supportive and engaged parents, and to Stand for Children for this great opportunity.

I can’t wait to see how these students continue to thrive this year.

P.S.: Read more about another cohort of families in this program and how their students’ reading improved.

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