A Blip on the ‘Reader’ Screen

California’s fourth-graders nearly hit rock bottom on reading
Gilroy – Some educators blame the high number of English learners. Others say it’s because California has higher standards than many states.

But regardless of the reason, the results of a study released in late October reveal that fourth-graders attending public school in the Golden State aren’t faring too well in the reading department.

The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report showed that California’s fourth-graders were ranked only a notch above fourth-graders in Mississippi and Washington, D.C. The student’s average score was 207, compared to a nationwide average of 217.

Mississippi’s average was 204 and Washington, D.C. was 191.

The assessment, also referred to as the “nation’s report card,” has been administered to students in every state periodically in a variety of disciplines since 1969. The 2005 exam was only given to fourth and eighth graders in math and reading and students could score up to 500 points.

To El Roble Elementary School Teacher Norma Castro, the fourth-grade numbers aren’t surprising.

“There’s a big difference as far as the literature that’s required in the third than in fourth,” said Castro, who has taught fourth grade for 12 years, “Yeah it’s gonna drop because they’re not used to it. There’s no build-up or escalating to that.”

Students are expected to enter fourth grade, review for one month and then jump into brand-new curriculum that’s drastically different from third grade, she said. Suddenly, they’re expected to write three-paragraph passages instead of the one-paragraph required in third grade, said Castro.

“In fourth grade, they really have to start to read to learn,” said Eliot Elementary School Principal and former teacher Diane Elia. “They actually have to start to understand the vocabulary.”

For California schools such as Eliot, dealing with the high number of English learners is challenging, said Elia. Particularly when students who grew up in Spanish-speaking households are asked to apply relatively new skills to classwork and standardized tests.

“So, I think it becomes really difficult for ELL (English language learners),” she said.

Any issues a student had in kindergarten through third grade may become exaggerated by the time he or she reaches fourth grade, said Elia. Sometimes a native Spanish speaker may have the verbal skills and recognize words but once they’re asked to begin decoding and comprehending passages it becomes extremely demanding for some students, she said.

Eliot uses a program called English Now to help EL students with basic skills.

The data from NAEP is not divided to show district, school or county results. Still, the Gilroy Unified School District fourth-grade scores on the 2005 California Standardized Testing and Reporting nearly mirror the state average.

The standardized test is administered by the California Department of Education and differs from the NAEP reading assessment but it still reveals that Gilroy’s students were closely aligned with the rest of the state. Of the fourth-graders who took the STAR in 2005, 44 percent tested proficient or above.

And overall, 47 percent of California fourth-graders tested proficient or above.

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