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Why Iowa looks to Florida to boost third-grade reading

(DES MOINES) – Reading by the end of third grade is an essential milestone.

Yet an alarming number of Iowa youngsters are promoted to fourth grade without having mastered this basic skill. That’s why the Branstad-Reynolds Administration blueprint for world-class schools includes an initiative modeled after Florida’s successful literacy program, and why they are pleased that Dr. Matthew Ladner of the Foundation for Excellence in Education will make a presentation on how Florida did this at the State Capitol in Des Moines on Monday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m., in Room 103.

Ladner will share how, through accountability and intensive, customized instruction starting in kindergarten, Florida was able to reverse a generation of decline. He also will discuss how Florida’s policy of retention as a last resort better serves children than promoting them if they are illiterate at the end of third grade. Since 2002, the number of Florida’s third-graders scoring at the lowest achievement level on state tests has dropped 41 percent.

Meanwhile, nearly 23 percent of Iowa third-graders were not proficient readers in 2010-11 on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.

What’s more, Florida has surpassed Iowa in fourth-grade reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This occurred despite Florida having a much higher share of students living in poverty and learning English as a second language. Florida’s average fourth-grade reading score on NAEP soared from 206 in 1998 to 225 in 2011. Iowa’s average fourth-grade reading score inched up just one point over that same period, from 220 to 221.

House Education Committee Chairman Greg Forristall has convened the presentation, which also will include remarks by Waterloo School District Superintendent Gary Norris. Norris, who led the Sarasota County school system in Florida from 2004-2008, will talk about the difference a reading initiative like Florida’s can make for students.

“We must do a better job of helping children learn to read,” said Gov. Terry Branstad. “It’s unacceptable that nearly a fourth of our third-graders are not proficient in reading.”

“Schools may need to carve out more time for reading, and we must make sure teachers have the resources they need,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. “Parents also need to look at whether they are spending enough time reading at home with their children.”

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