Credit: Ashley Hopkinson/EdSource
Victor Reyes, 2, selects a book to read before a summer storytime in San Francisco, Calif.

After years in which reading scores throughout the state fell short, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced a new initiative Tuesday that would get all California third-grade students reading by 2026.

Though the specifics of the initiative have not been worked out, Thurmond said he plans to put together a task force of educators, parents and education experts within the next few weeks that will eventually make policy recommendations. Assemblywoman Mia Bonta, D-Alameda, will author a bill for the upcoming legislative cycle that will address and fund those recommendations.

Research shows that students who aren’t reading at grade level by the third grade will struggle to catch up throughout their education career. During the 2018-19 school year, only 51% of California students in grades three through 11 tested at grade level or above in English language arts on the state’s Smarter Balanced tests; only 48.5% of third graders tested at grade level or above in English language arts.

Research also shows that students who struggle with reading in the third grade can also be at greater risk of dropping out of school and end up in the criminal justice system, Thurmond said.

“This is a strategy about helping children learn to read, but also about putting them on a path that can create success,” said Thurmond, speaking at West Contra Costa Unified’s West County Mandarin School.

Accountability measurements for the initiative will be determined by the task force, Thurmond said. It will also focus on school readiness, professional learning, reducing chronic absenteeism, bilingual education and support that will offset some social and economic impacts that can become a barrier to students, he said.

The task force will decide if the goal is to have all third graders able to read or to have them reading at grade level.

Early literacy has been a focus for policymakers for years. Thurmond said it’s been a priority of his since he was elected in 2018; however, he said, the pandemic has “upended” some of his team’s efforts to address the issue.

In 2020, the state settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of students who struggled with reading at three elementary schools by rewarding 75 elementary schools across the state a total of $50 million in state block grants. The money pays for literacy coaches, teachers aides, training for teachers and reading material that reflects the cultural makeup of the student population.

What makes this new initiative different from the others, Thurmond said, is that it will set a concrete goal of getting students reading by the third grade. This will help “stitch together” other available resources and work that’s already been done, he said.

One of the challenges to the 2026 goal is research suggesting that many children have lost momentum on fundamental literacy skills during the pandemic. The university-based research organization PACE found that reading fluency in second and third graders fell about 30% behind the usual benchmark in a study comparing data from fall 2020 with fall 2019.

“This campaign launches at a time when we have all seen how drastically our education systems can change in a crisis,” said Christopher Nellum, executive director of Education Trust-West. “We’ve seen it all across the state in the last 18-20 months, and in our opinion now is the time to act with the same sense of urgency with regard to our literacy crisis in California.”

Another challenge is a statewide shortage of teachers and paraprofessionals. Though the task force may end up calling for more reading coaches and other specialists, districts may struggle to find them.

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  1. Alicia 2 months ago2 months ago

    I agree with Beth and E. The curriculum and most importantly Common Core and the Smarter Balanced tests are all aligned and are not developmentally appropriate. Since the adoption of Common Core and all of the changes that occurred, test scores have not improved and in some cases fell. About 15 years ago, I found a book from a reading series that I remember reading as a child. It was for third … Read More

    I agree with Beth and E. The curriculum and most importantly Common Core and the Smarter Balanced tests are all aligned and are not developmentally appropriate. Since the adoption of Common Core and all of the changes that occurred, test scores have not improved and in some cases fell.

    About 15 years ago, I found a book from a reading series that I remember reading as a child. It was for third graders. It is comparable in reading difficulty to what first grade students are reading now. The bar has been raised without a doubt. Simply raising the bar is not going to create an improvement. We need to meet the children where they are according to the stages of child development. We need to dump Common Core and adopt a Common Sense curriculum aligned to the stages of child development.

  2. Monie 2 months ago2 months ago

    I find this initiative troubling because All students deserve by law to have a free and appropriate education. The idea of postponing being at grade level for literacy until 2026 means that so many students will continue to fall through the cracks. Do it now. Literacy is a human right. So many students of means get outside tutoring and make it. Those without means , like far too many of our … Read More

    I find this initiative troubling because All students deserve by law to have a free and appropriate education. The idea of postponing being at grade level for literacy until 2026 means that so many students will continue to fall through the cracks. Do it now.

    Literacy is a human right. So many students of means get outside tutoring and make it. Those without means , like far too many of our English language learners, students with differences, students with socioeconomic hardship are already years behind. We need to change the culture around literacy and close the “action gap” left by Thurmond.

    If we used the science of reading and taught these students in a more explicit manner, not the cueing system, balanced literacy which is based largely on guessing and not decoding. Also districts that succeed do automatic testing in k-3. All students deserve timely intensive interventions. Thurmond is setting many of our most vulnerable students for failing, and many then go from the education system to the justice system. Literacy is a human right for a reason. So disappointed in leaders who keep postponing students needs.

  3. Paul Thompson 2 months ago2 months ago

    Well, I am curious now: What is the accountability for schools and school programs that fail? While I support public school teachers and was not a fan of charter schools, my belief is waning after the Covid issues.

    How are public traditional schools held accountable for failure? Or do my tax dollars simply go to waste?

    Would love it if EdSource can do a report on the accountability mechanisms against districts and charters to get a better understanding on the issues.

  4. Sherron 2 months ago2 months ago

    I've been a teacher for many years, mostly in 2nd-8th. I know how important the craft of reading is to all humans in our society. Unfortunately, the idealism of all being proficient has never been achieved in any subject matter, no matter the dedication, great intentions, and money. Read by 3 was a disaster in Nevada, as well as "No Child Left Behind" throughout the states. Educators need to focus on what a society can … Read More

    I’ve been a teacher for many years, mostly in 2nd-8th. I know how important the craft of reading is to all humans in our society. Unfortunately, the idealism of all being proficient has never been achieved in any subject matter, no matter the dedication, great intentions, and money. Read by 3 was a disaster in Nevada, as well as “No Child Left Behind” throughout the states. Educators need to focus on what a society can realistically accomplish. Stop trying to convince the populace that pouring funds toward this goal is going to make it successful.

  5. Christina Lewis 2 months ago2 months ago

    Does anyone how to get state help for my son and his reading and help with his dyslexia like a grant to help pay for his tutoring or something the state offers?

  6. Paul Muench 2 months ago2 months ago

    Any information on ESL differences? At least for native English speakers direct reading instruction works well. For parents that can help their children I highly recommend “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.” It has a cheesy title and the method looks strange, but I used it to teach all my children to read in Kindergarten.

  7. Mike 2 months ago2 months ago

    I saw a graphic earlier today that describes the real problem in public education. The flow of money and result.

    1. Taxpayer to state
    2. State to school district
    3. School district to teacher
    4. Teacher to teachers union
    5. Teachers union to Democrat war chest
    6. No accountability , no competition , no school choice – for the taxpayer… ……….All due to union protections

  8. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 2 months ago2 months ago

    Old news gets new ink, new promises, no new action. Before the pandemic, more than half of CA public school third graders were not reading in English at grade level. Even worse, before the pandemic only slightly more than half of grades 3-11 public school students were reading in English at grade level. One can only imagine what the score is post-pandemic. This is doubtless why Forbes Magazine ranks California … Read More

    Old news gets new ink, new promises, no new action. Before the pandemic, more than half of CA public school third graders were not reading in English at grade level. Even worse, before the pandemic only slightly more than half of grades 3-11 public school students were reading in English at grade level. One can only imagine what the score is post-pandemic. This is doubtless why Forbes Magazine ranks California #41 among 50 states for quality of public education.

    This is an emergency demanding attention and action equivalent to any wildfire, as it carries life-long consequences for the individual and for our society.

    For years responsible adults, starting with elected officials whose expensive political campaigns are funded by vested special interests, have kicked the public education can down the road. But now caviling, excuses, and the tired “one-size-fits-all” blaming of standardized tests will not suffice. No more strategic avoidance from our Democratic governors and majority Democratic Legislature. California children must be taught to read so they can function responsibly and self-sufficiently in the world.

  9. Beth Hankoff 2 months ago2 months ago

    I'm curious what a third grade reading passage looks like in 2021. I'd like to see that side by side with a third-grade passage from, say, 1977 - when I was in third grade. The material seems so difficult these days. I'd also like to compare both of those with a passage from Finland that a typical 8-year-old would read. When “experts” say children are not reading on grade level, I want to know exactly … Read More

    I’m curious what a third grade reading passage looks like in 2021. I’d like to see that side by side with a third-grade passage from, say, 1977 – when I was in third grade. The material seems so difficult these days. I’d also like to compare both of those with a passage from Finland that a typical 8-year-old would read.

    When “experts” say children are not reading on grade level, I want to know exactly what they mean. When I teach kids to read, they do much better if we wait until 6.5-7 years. They can read an old second-grade passage fluently, but they are “behind” if you judge by Common Core standards. It’s like they created a moving target that makes it look like today’s kids have literacy issues, when in fact, they just raised the bar a foot each decade.

  10. E 2 months ago2 months ago

    I watched Thurmond’s town hall yesterday and nobody commented on curriculum as being a potential issue. Currently, many of the schools that are performing poorly have adopted a reading and writing curriculum that is not backed by the science on how children learn to read. Honestly, until we take a good hard look at how we are teaching kids, we are all just merely hamsters on a wheel.

  11. Luis 2 months ago2 months ago

    And if they don’t improve? Unlike charter schools, who face closure every 5 years, There is zero accountability for failing government schools. Would love to hear if I am wrong

  12. Pedro Noguera 2 months ago2 months ago

    I would like to see details on how the state proposes to achieve this goal.

    Replies

    • della 2 months ago2 months ago

      I looked at the comment before I looked at the name – I wonder if anyone on here knows your work! Hi Professor;-)

  13. MJC 2 months ago2 months ago

    Beyond embarrassing …

    Waiting until 3rd grade? SMH

    Can’t wait for the next excuse why 40% of students don’t read to grade level.

  14. ann 2 months ago2 months ago

    BTW the child in the pic is adorable!

  15. Ann 2 months ago2 months ago

    The settlement works out to $666,666.667 per school (over 3 years). It will go on and when the results aren't there or get mixed up in this new 'initiative' the results will disappear down the black hole of educational spending. 'Reading material that reflects the cultural makeup of the student population.' These kids sued because they weren't taught to read by their teachers.... Read More

    The settlement works out to $666,666.667 per school (over 3 years). It will go on and when the results aren’t there or get mixed up in this new ‘initiative’ the results will disappear down the black hole of educational spending. ‘Reading material that reflects the cultural makeup of the student population.’ These kids sued because they weren’t taught to read by their teachers….

  16. el 2 months ago2 months ago

    Do we ever sample the kids who score at the lowest reading level and send outside humans to directly investigate and interact with those students to try to come up with a diagnosis? IE, are those kids truly unable to read, what factors might be in play causing that around either the individual student or school, and what corrective measures might actually be helpful? Would we see that there are similar causes and threads that … Read More

    Do we ever sample the kids who score at the lowest reading level and send outside humans to directly investigate and interact with those students to try to come up with a diagnosis? IE, are those kids truly unable to read, what factors might be in play causing that around either the individual student or school, and what corrective measures might actually be helpful? Would we see that there are similar causes and threads that can be corrected with statewide policy changes, or would we see that the situations are individual and what we need are more resources that can be agile and adapt to the specific cases?

    I also wonder if outside experts, when reviewing a sample of students in person, would be able to tell which students tested in the lowest quartile versus the second quartile.

    The proposed corrective actions make sense to me, but I wonder if the tests are telling us what we need to know.