Shameful reading scores for MMSD sophomores

According to the data on DPI’s Web site, the combined percentages for minimum and basic categories (these are below grade level) for MMSD’s 10th graders on the WKCE reading test in November 2004 were:

All students – 26%
African American – 53%
Asian – 29%
Hispanic – 51%
White – 15%

The real shame lies, not in the scores, but in the MMSD’s lack of any systematic program to raise these students’ reading abilities before graduation.
A few schools may offer Read 180, a remedial curriculum praised by staff in the MMSD and other districts.
Pam Nash illustrated the MMSD’s weak commitment to Read 180 in a response to my question on how much money the current budget includes for Read 180. Pam wrote:

The district has not included any specific budget for 2006-07 that would be utilized for READ 180. Individual building principals may utilize existing supply/formula and staffing allocations to provide READ 180 strategies within existing curriculum offerings. Read 180 will be offered at all four high schools and Brearly Street Alternatives. (emphasis added)

Given that implementation of Read 180 costs about $40,000 per school, according to district figures, Read 180 won’t be expanded to schools currently without it.
From the WKCE scores, probably 20% to 26% of MMSD graduates cannot read their diploma, let alone read well enough to continue their education or land a job that pays a living wage. (The percentage might be lower than 20% since many non-readers may drop out before graduation.)
Additionally, the superintendent and some board members like to brag that the MMSD closed the achievement gap because children of color are no longer over represented in the minimum category on the third grade reading test. Obviously, that’s a pitiful claim when more than half of Madison’s African American 10th graders can’t read at grade level.

7 thoughts on “Shameful reading scores for MMSD sophomores”

  1. Although the suggestion that more schools should purchase Read 180 has some merit, it could be that the school district has found that it does not work as well for the truly struggling readers as it does for marginally deficient ones. Many schools in WI have looked at even more expensive, but more effective measures in programs such as Fast ForWord, which was designed by two teams of brain researchers from Rutgers and UC-San Francisco following over 30 years of research on brain plasticity. What schools are finding is that many of the lowest performing students CAN’T read at a level needed to use programs like Read 180 until they complete Fast ForWord–which targets underlying cognitive difficulties such as language processing and working memory.
    So, as much as they may not be doing enough for the low performing students, they need to do more homework to see how other large districts have already solved this cunundrum.

  2. Several studies have shown that if a systematic phonics component is added to Reading Recovery, success can be more long-lasting and achieved 30% faster (I’ll reference the studies if you like but can’t remember them off the top of my head).
    Therefore, if you want to help the HS students, do what I said above, modify RR and allow for 1 on 2-3 remediation. Then, the freed up RR teachers can be sent up to the HS or MS to help these kids out. Simple, and it won’t cost you a penny more.
    Wait a minute though. A consulting firm would have charged the district 20k for this advise. I’ll do it for half. Where do I send the bill.
    Reed Schneider

  3. Ed & Reed,
    Both of your suggestions may be right on target. However, I suggested that the MMSD expand the exiting Read 180 programs because this administration and board majority pretty much reject anything that they don’t dream up themselves. Really, to suggest anything guarantees that the district won’t do it.

  4. What do the test scores look like for 8th and 4th graders this year in the same categories?

  5. I would like to know that too, Jane. Where do we find information like that? I know on an anecdotal basis – to my shock – that several of the kids I see as pretty weak readers scored “proficient” on the WKCE’s this past Fall. I also know that teachers are only supposed to refer entering sixth graders (so this year’s fifth graders) for Read 180 if they are more than two years behind grade level on reading. Sorry, but for a fifth grader, more than two years below grade level sounds to me like significantly more than “marginally deficient”. That means that these fifth graders moving on to middle school couldn’t read and comprehend a non-fiction text at a third-grade level (fluency and comprehension is higher on fiction books than on subject-related non-fiction texts).

  6. The reality check here is not measurable.
    If you look at the 7 and 8th grade scores they look better and I would expect some students to not do well for various reasons, but if you ask 10th graders how they did on these test they will laugh. It does not count towards college admission, their grade, scholarship, or any self serving purpose. By 10th grade they realize this situation and I have listened to conversations with this age group where they just fill in the blanks as fast a possible so they can be done. By high school these test must have some self serving purpose or the measurement themselves are useless. As an employee why would you want to spend 8 hours taking stressful test for no financial or career gain? We underestimate these students real world smarts.

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