One of the most profound actions we have taken as a district to address early reading comprehension is to create a first grade gate--mandating a benchmarked level of reading proficiency prior to advancement---ahead of the state-mandated 3rd grade gate over which we have no control. A couple of years ago, the district implemented this mandatory gate at first grade--in an effort to catch those students most at-risk of falling behind due to their inability to read on grade level upon completion of first grade. I strongly supported this gate at 1st grade, and I continue to champion the idea that we need one at 8th grade as well--however that gate gets no support unfortunately, for reasons that are more social than academic.
The best part about the gate we all agree upon, this first-grade gate, is that it MANDATES parental participation in the process, with required contacts with the parents throughout the year in order to keep everyone updated on the progress the 1st grade students are making. The parental engagement piece has been a vital key to the process. As the below pictures indicate, most schools are now achieving the goal of having 100% of at-risk students' parents engage in conferences with the schools. This is a feat, given the social mobility in many of our schools. One of the interesting data points that we should be able to glean from this extra effort, beginning at the end of this school year, is the ability to see if the number of 3rd grade retentions in the district declines for the cohorts that have gone through the 1st grade gate, as compared to previous years where the district did not engage so aggressively at the first grade level. That will be an interesting analysis that I'm interested in studying.
Additionally, we are funding several elementary schools for extended days for the purpose of intensive reading focus. The success of this extra hour, or if it decreases the number of students held back, should also be apparent at the end of this school year, if similar students from other non-extended day schools are used for comparison. I look forward to all of this data being made available, and I hope all of this extra effort increases the number of elementary school students that will be reading at grade level.