Keep raising literacy bar for our kids

About a third of the local school districts rated for their K-3 literacy improvements fell below proficient in state report card rankings released last week.

This comes after an Ohio initiative kicked off in 2013 with the intention of improving literacy for elementary students. At that time, more than 34 percent of Ohio’s third graders who participated in the state tests were at risk for being held back to repeat third grade. At that time, about a third of the third-graders in Trumbull County also failed.

Sadly, two years later, it appears our kids are still in the same predicament. Four out of 13 local districts that were rated finished with elementary readers below 50 percent proficiency.

They are Warren City at 35.3 percent; Niles City, 45.4 percent; Liberty, 29.5 percent; and Girard City, 36.7 percent.

On the bright side, six districts that were rated came in at 50 percent or above – LaBrae Local was at 50 percent; Hubbard at 77 percent; Southington at 52.4 percent; Mathews at 78.9 percent; Champion, 59.5 percent; Bloomfield-Mespo, 84.2 percent; Newton Falls, 79.2 percent; Austintown, 51.6 percent; and Youngstown, 64.2 percent.

None of these scores (with the exception, perhaps, of Bloomfield-Mespo, which received the only literacy “A” in the area) are anything to brag about.

Still, none of the public school district scores were ranked as failing.

When it comes to literacy, each of the three local charter schools that were rated – Summit Academy-Warren, Hope Academy for Autism and STEAM Academy of Warren – received F grades. The lowest score went to Summit Academy in Warren, with 5 percent.

Area school leaders outlined plans they have to improve reading skills of their third graders. Under the direction of Superintendent Steve Chiaro, Warren City Schools, for example, has put about a half-million dollars into reinstituting a district-wide literacy collaborative program.

We are glad to see this commitment, and hope other local districts are finding ways to fix the serious problem in their schools.

We were bothered by the reaction of some school administrators who argued, like LaBrae Superintendent Anthony Calderone, that these scores were not reflective because the testing criteria may have gotten more difficult; or like Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca, who said a 50 percent proficient is on target because it is labeled by the state as “proficient.”

Instead, we should expect our school leaders to raise the bar and keep it high.

If anything, we expect our schools to teach our children the three basic skills – reading, writing and arithmetic. And we would argue strongly that reading is the most important of the three.

Lawmakers were correct when they enacted this law in recent years in an effort to revoke free passes that previously may have allowed less-than-proficient readers to be passed along.

Of course there are some students with special circumstances, but the vast majority of students who have been bumped along to grade after grade without being able to meet basic targets have been failed by their schools in all the ways that count.

Ohio officials and educators should these latest startling numbers as an opportunity to end that cycle and find new ways to improve.