New Report on Early Literacy

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A new report is out that identifies various factors impacting early literacy in Arizona. Read On Arizona, the state’s early literacy initiative, released the new report at a recent literacy summit, and one finding is that chronic absenteeism negatively impacts third-grade reading scores. Terri Clark, the Arizona Literacy Director and Robert Vagi, an Arizona State University researcher at the Mary Lou Fulton College Teachers College, will discuss the report.

TED: GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON." I'M TED SIMONS. A NEW REPORT IDENTIFIES VARIOUS FACTORS IMPACTING EARLY LITERACY IN ARIZONA, THE REPORT FOCUSED ON THIRD GRADE LITERACY TESTS AND WAS RELEASED AT A RECENT LITERACY SUMMIT BY "READ ON ARIZONA", JOINING US IS TERRI CLARK, THE DIRECTOR OF ARIZONA LITERACY AND ROBERT VAGI, A RESEARCHER AT ASU'S MARY LOU FULTON TEACHER'S COLLEGE. WHAT IS "READ ON ARIZONA"?

TERRI CLARK: IT'S THE STATE'S THIRD GRADE READING INITIATIVE AND A PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP OF STATE AGENCIES, COMMUNITY PARTNERS, NON-PROFITS ALL WORKING TO HELP IMPROVE LITERACY OUTCOMES FROM BIRTH TO THE END OF THIRD GRADE. THIRD GRADE IS THE KEY MILESTONE TO ACADEMIC SUCCESS.

TED: AS FAR AS THIS REPORT IS CONCERNED, IT'S FOCUSED ON THIRD GRADE LITERACY TESTS. AM I GETTING THIS RIGHT?

ROBERT VAGI: WE LOOKED AT THE PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS PASSING THIRD GRADE READING ACROSS THE SCHOOLS THROUGHOUT THE STATE.

TED: WHAT WERE YOU LOOKING FOR IN THE TEST RESULTS?

ROBERT VAGI: OUR GOAL WASN'T NECESSARILY TO LOOK AT THE RESULTS BUT TO LOOK AT FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH DIFFERENT LEVELS OF PASSING THIRD GRADE READING. LOOKING FOR HEALTH AND SCHOOL LEVEL VARIABLES THAT SHOWED STRONG RELATIONSHIPS WITH THIRD GRADE READING AT THE SCHOOL LEVEL.

TED: VARIABLES SUCH AS WHAT?

ROBERT VAGI: WE HAD A LOT. I CAN'T LIST THEM ALL, BUT WE HAD SCHOOL LEVEL ATTENDANCE, SCHOOL ENROLLMENT AND PERCENT POVERTY AND NUMBER OF PRE-KS IN THE ZIP CODE AND ASTHMA RATES IN THE AREA, PRETERM BIRTHS, A LOT OF THINGS.

TED: LET'S TALK ABOUT THE VARIABLES. POVERTY SEEMS LIKE IT WOULD HAVE TO HAVE SOME IMPACT.

TERRI CLARK: I THOUGHT IT WAS ONE THAT WASN'T A SURPRISE BUT REALLY TO UNPACK THAT AND THAT'S WHAT THIS PROJECT EMERGED OUT OF. LOOKING AT DATA FACTORS THAT HAVE AN IMPACT ON OUR LITERACY RATES IN OUR OWN BACKYARDS WHICH HAVE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT OUTCOMES FOR KIDS THAT ARE STRUGGLING WITH READING SO THAT'S WHERE YOU -- WE KNOW POVERTY IS ONE. BUT -- AND A NATIONAL TREND IS TO SHOW CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM. MISSING 10% OF SCHOOL OR MORE. BUT WE DIDN'T KNOW IT WOULD TREND IN ARIZONA, BUT IN OUR BACKYARD, THAT'S A BIG ONE.

TED: STUDENT ATTENDANCE, A BIGGY AND POVERTY ALSO A BIGGY. THE IMPACT OF CHARTER STATUS WAS MENTIONED. TALK TO US ABOUT THAT.

TERRI CLARK: THAT WAS THE ONE WHERE WE TALKED ABOUT THIS AS AN EXPLORATORY STUDY, WE NEED TO DO A LITTLE BIT MORE. WE NEED TO DIG DEEPER TO FIND OUT WHAT IS GOING ON THERE. BUT IT'S TELLING US TO LOOK IN THAT DIRECTION, THAT'S WHERE THE WORK IN THE STUDY ITSELF STARTS TO SAY WE'RE USING DATA NOT JUST TO TELL US WHAT THE TEMPERATURE, BUT TO WHERE WE NEED DO MORE FACT FINDING AND REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT IS -- WHAT'S CAUSING THESE ISSUES.

TED: AND WHEN THE REPORT IS LABELED EXPLORATORY IN NATURE, THAT'S WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HERE?

ROBERT VAGI: YES, WE WANT A BROAD VIEW OF WHAT MIGHT BE INFLUENCING THIRD GRADE READING SCORES AT THE SCHOOL LEVEL.

TED: THINGS LIKE COMMUNITY AND HEALTH FACTORS, TALK TO US ABOUT THOSE. THOSE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAY DOVETAIL INTO OTHER ASPECTS. POVERTY AND WHERE YOU LIVE AND HOW YOU'RE RAISED AND THESE THINGS.

ROBERT VAGI: EXACTLY. EVERYTHING WE LOOKED AT RELATES TO STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN OUR STUDIES. THE REASON WE SAY IT WAS EXPLORATORY, WE WANTED TO FIND THE STRONGEST RELATIONSHIP INDEPENDENT OF EVERYTHING ELSE. FROM THAT, WE HAVE HAD POVERTY, A STRONG PREDICTER OF ACHIEVEMENT AND AS TERRI MENTIONED, TWO INDEPENDENT MEASURES THAT PREDICTED STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT.

TED: SOUNDS LIKE GETTING THE KID IN THE CLASSROOM IS HUGE.

ROBERT VAGI: EXACTLY, AND AS A FORMER TEACHER AND ANYONE WHO HAS TAUGHT STUDENTS, THAT'S AN INTUITIVE PIECE.

TED: THE SECOND GRADE RETENTION IS MENTIONED. AND THIRD GRADE IS A BIG GRADE HERE IN ARIZONA, AS FAR AS ADVANCING AND FIGURING OUT WHERE A STUDENT IS. SECOND GRADE RETENTION, WHAT DID YOU FIND OUT?

ROBERT VAGI: IT'S IMPORTANT TO POINT OUT THAT THE PURPOSE OF THE STUDY WAS NOT TO IDENTIFY THINGS THAT DON'T WORK, THAT DON'T MATTER BUT JUST THE THINGS THAT HAVE THE STRONGEST RELATIONSHIPS. THAT SAID, WE DIDN'T FIND A SIGNIFICANT RELATIONSHIPS WITH SECOND GRADE RETENTION AND THIRD GRADE READING ACHIEVEMENT.

TED: DID IT SURPRISE YOU?

TERRI CLARK: NO, SOMETIMES WE'RE LOOKING AT THE WRONG THINGS OR NOT PAYING AS MUCH ATTENTION, SO ATTENDANCE MATTER, YES, ABSENCES ADD UP AND WE KNOW IT BUT DON'T ALWAYS DRIVE STRATEGIES AND KEEP PEOPLE FOCUS ON THAT OVER TIME. FOR US, IT WAS HELPING US TO NARROW THE FOCUS OF WHERE OUR REAL ATTENTION NEEDS TO BE.

TED: WHERE DOES THE ATTENTION NEED TO BE?

TERRI CLARK: FOR US, WE'RE GOING TO DOUBLE DOWN ON CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM AND WE HAVE NEW DATA AND WE'VE BEEN ABLE TO DESEGREGATE THAT DATA SO WE CAN SAY IN KINDERGARTEN AND FIRST GRADE ARE THE HIGHEST RATES OF CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM. THE SAME KIDS MISSING 18 OR MORE DAYS OF SCHOOL THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, THAT ADDS UP AND THAT'S PROBABLY CONTRIBUTING TO THE REASON THEY MIGHT BE A GRADE OR TWO BELOW GRADE LEVEL.

TED: ARE WE FINDING OUT WHY THEY'RE MISSING SCHOOL?

ROBERT VAGI: THIS STUDY DIDN'T LOOK AT THAT, BUT IT'S IMPORTANT TO POINT OUT IN THIS ANALYSIS, THE ATTENDANCE RATES WERE RELATED TO ACHIEVEMENT ABOVE AND BEYOND POVERTY. THE FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH POVERTY, IT'S TRUE AND IMPORTANT BUT WHAT THIS ANALYSIS SHOWS FOR ALL SCHOOL, REGARDLESS OF POVERTY LEVEL ATTENDANCE RATES ARE STRONGLY RELATED TO THIRD GRADE ACHIEVEMENT.

TED: I SAW IN THE REPORT THAT THE RESULTS ARE CORRELATIONAL, NOT CAUSAL.

ROBERT VAGI: IF YOU'VE TAKEN A INTRODUCTORY STATISTICS CLASS, YOU'VE HEARD THAT. THE STUDY IS NOT MEANT TO SAY THAT THIS CAUSED ANYTHING WITH A REASONABLE DEGREE OF CERTAINTY. BUT WITH THAT BEING SAID WE CAN COME UP WITH SOME REASONABLE THEORIES ABOUT WHY WE'RE SEEING WHAT WE'RE SEEING PARTICULARLY WITH TENDENCY RATE. I THINK THAT THEORY IS PRETTY STRONG. KIDS NEED TO BE IN THE CLASSROOM TO BE LEARNING.

TED: BOTTOM LINE, OF COURSE, IF YOU'RE WATCHING NOW AND GOT A KID THIS AGE, GRANDCHILDREN OR -- GRANDKID OR NEIGHBOR KID, WHAT DO YOU TAKE FROM THE REPORT?

TERRI CLARK: I THINK THAT ABSENCES ADD UP, THE EARLY YEARS MATTER. PRE-K AND KINDERGARTEN, MAKE SURE YOU GET THEM THERE, THAT THAT'S WHAT IS GOING TO HELP THEM DEVELOP THE SKILLS THEY NEED TO BE AN EXCELLENT READER. I THINK WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND MORE WHAT SOME OF THOSE BARRIERS ARE FOR FAMILIES THEY'RE NOT GETTING TO SCHOOL AND A LOT HAS DO WITH HEALTH ISSUE, MAKING SURE THEY'RE SCREENED AT THE PROPER AGE AND DEVELOPMENTAL AND VISION ISSUES AND HEALTH, DENTAL. THERE'S A LOT OF THINGS WE CAN -- THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS THAT ARE PREVENTIVE AND MAKE SURE THAT THE KIDS ARE ON THE RIGHT TRACK.

TED: THANKS FOR JOINING US, WE APPRECIATE IT.

Terri Clark, Arizona Literacy Director; Robert Vagi, researcher, Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton College Teachers College

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