Getting Answers: helping students close learning gaps in reading

Last month, the state released MCAS results showing student scores dipped in English language arts.
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 2:44 PM EST
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WESTFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Last month, the state released MCAS results showing student scores dipped in English language arts.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, ELA scores were down five percent in grades three through eight and six percent among tenth graders. DESE’s report also mentioned that overall results when compared to pre-pandemic levels show a continued need for improvement.

Western Mass News is getting answers from local area school districts on what measures they are taking to address these areas that students are struggling with.

“Grades three to five scores were affected and when we think about the years of the pandemic and kids learning to read and write either from home, when they were remote or just missing instruction because of being out our absentee rates, as well as across the state last year and the year before, we’re pretty high,” said Christine Shea, director of assessment and accountability with Westfield Public Schools.

Shea and Susan Dargie, the director of curriculum at Westfield Public Schools, shared the district’s English language scores were similar to the statewide averages from this year’s report.

“We identified prior to the pandemic that English Language Arts was an area that we were working to improve and the resources that we have been using have been in place for a number of years,” Dargie added.

Dargie told us the district has added extra professional development days with teachers to help solidify their skill set and has worked on improving early literacy development with their students.

“One of the things that we felt needed to be improved were the materials that we were using, the materials and grades K to five had been put in place in 2012,” Dargie noted.

She told Western Mass News that some of the changes that have been implemented to improve the ELA scores.

“At the secondary level, we have StudySync, which is the curriculum resource that we use and it is separated into units of study that have novels that can be integrated into those units,” Dargie said.

Shea wanted parents to know that “we also have assessments that we give several times a year to check on how kids are doing progress, so if they’re progressing, that’s great. How can we continue to challenge them and if they’re struggling with something how can we bring in those interventions to support them?”

Education advocates we spoke with are sounding the alarm and said that numerous high school students in western Massachusetts are reading at first grade levels.

“Not just Massachusetts, not just locally, but nationally, our literacy rates have been pretty stagnant for a long time and we can see that sort of trickle down in a lot of areas,” said literacy specialist Ben Tobin.

Tobin told us he believes one of the reasons why reading scores have dropped concerns the foundation of how reading is taught.

“I ended up seeing a lot of kids, especially older kids, who are missing a lot of foundational skills and having to teach a middle schooler their vowel sounds, for instance, or a high schooler how to do basic decoding. It’s doable, but the science and research shows us that the best time to do this is in kindergarten to second grade,” Tobin added.

He shared tips for parents who may see students struggling with reading.

“It’s helpful for teachers and parents, especially if their students are struggling, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist, but you should at least, you can go on Youtube and find a video, just a basic understanding of how reading works because one of the popular myths about reading is there are lots of different ways of learning how to read and there’s lots of different styles,” Tobin said.