Summer reading...the data don't lie

We collect a lot of data on our students. State standardized tests, DIBELS, and RTI feedback from Lexia and Symphony software in particular all provide us with the opportunity to modify instruction based on specific student needs.

We collect a lot of data on our students. State standardized tests, DIBELS, and RTI feedback from Lexia and Symphony software in particular all provide us with the opportunity to modify instruction based on specific student needs.

That's a good thing. Obviously, the data collection process has to be managed so that we don't consume education with testing (which, in the age of NCLB, we too often do). However, since we have plenty of good tools at our disposal for so-called "data-driven instruction," we should make use of them.

As I was reviewing some of these data with one of our principals and our reading coordinator the other day, it became very clear that too many kids simply weren't making enough progress in literacy and were clearly falling further behind over the summers. Fortunately, we have a few years of data and could examine these kids longitudinally, and some trends were fairly clear.

Being a math guy, I could see the trends, but it took the principal and reading coordinator, both of whom have extensive experience in early reading and literacy, to tell me what caused the problems I was seeing. These kids simply weren't exposed to reading in any form outside of school. They weren't being read to, they weren't reading, and they were struggling in school as a result. Even looking at IQ where it was available as a covariate, the problem simply came down to reading.

This isn't a matter of passing judgment, either. Sometimes circumstances conspire against parents and families and we as educators often don't know the whole story. This problem is compounded when we are simply using data to identify kids who are struggling. However, the data don't lie and the fundamental role of literacy in education is absolutely undeniable.

So what do we do? We need to keep kids reading over their breaks. For my state, it's Spring Break and a week with no reading will probably not make or break our students. Summer break, though, can be disastrous without reading exposure, especially for the younger kids. We, as educators and parents, need to seriously explore a couple of options.

The first is to look at year around schooling. I'm not suggesting that we need to go much beyond our current 180 days that we use in this country; rather, shortening the summer break and lengthening other breaks simply means that kids don't go for so long without reading exposure, especially when support systems aren't in place to ensure that kids are reading.

The second is to look at funding summer literacy programs. These could take a variety of forms, but almost certainly should be focused on the kids identified via our data analyses as struggling readers and GET THEM READING! Even providing them with transportation and access to computers to access RTI software a few times a week would be a major improvement, although ideally we'd fund instructors who could provide 1:1 or small group assistance.

Most of us have access to the data. Now what are we going to do about it?