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Philadelphia is challenged to equip schools and parents with the best resources and strategies to ensure children read proficiently by the end of third grade. Research highlights the end of third grade as a critical moment in children’s educational development.

At this stage kids transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Achieving this milestone is the most important indicator of high school and career success. 4th graders unable to read at grade-level are four times more likely to drop out of high school compared to peers who read proficiently. In Philadelphia, only 13% rising 4th graders read at grade-level according to national standards.

How can we better understand such a daunting and complicated issue?

Start with income disparity. 92% of students in low-income communities attend schools where fewer than 75% of kids enter fourth grade with required basic literacy skills. The achievement gap widens at a faster rate between low-income students compared to middle-income students at the end of the third grade.

Springboard Collaborative ©

(Springboard Collaborative ©)

To alleviate this education crisis, Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) is championing a multi-organization effort steering key public and nonprofit sector stakeholders to ensure by 2020 all Philadelphia students achieve grade-level reading at the end of the third grade.

Collective impact efforts are proven powerful approaches to effect change. But identifying how to best incorporate the unique strengths, resources and institutional work habits among varying organizations can be difficult. Donna Cooper, Executive Director of PCCY, and Sharmain Matlock-Turner, President and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) are co-leading a Steering Committee to provide clarity for stakeholders about their roles and how their work fits within the larger collective strategy.

Child Reading

Ensuring 100% of Philadelphia’s public and charter students can read at grade-level by the end of third grade is an ambitious goal. But research offers legitimate reason for optimism. Studies highlighting the five greatest contributing factors to successful grade-level achievement among children provides PCCY and participating organizations with a head-start to increase the number of children who achieve grade-level reading.

1. High-quality Early Learning Programs: A child from a low-income family typically hears 30 million fewer words than a middle or higher-income peer by kindergarten. Most low-income children face a disadvantage almost immediately upon entering formal education.

2. Reducing School Absenteeism: 10% of kindergarten and first grade students miss nearly a month of school each year. Greater access to quality healthcare and family reduces school absences which decreases the likelihood of falling behind grade-level.

3. Summer Reading Efforts, Out of School Time, and Reading Infusion: Children who do not have access to summer learning opportunities lose up to three months of reading comprehension during summer months. Organizations like Springboard Collaborative offer programs to reduce the summer slide.

4. Instructional Strategy Development & Alignment: Required teaching material and effective grade-level reading strategies must be aligned. Identifying learners with special needs like Dyslexia is vital to providing those children beneficial strategies to overcome their disability.

5. Parent Engagement & Mobilization: Parents set the foundation for the child to achieve grade-level reading. This occurs from providing kids with their earliest vocabulary learning, ensuring their child is healthy enough to go to school, and infusing daily reading in their child’s home life.

PCCY and participants across target Subcommittees will design and implement strategies driven by the key contributing factors of successful child reading. They anticipate a rollout to coincide with summer programs and the 2014-15 school year. Fairmount Ventures is proud to help facilitate a complex process to create a Community Solutions Action Plan and develop a six year strategy and operational plan.

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