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Opinion: Reading skills are the key to long-term success, and we are failing our Black students

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Gary S. Smith is founder and CEO of The Reading Success Movement, which works with 3CDC.
  • Gary S. Smith is founder and CEO of The Reading Success Movement, which works with 3CDC.
I read your article “Local schools — and passionate educators — work to level the playing field for students of color." Thank you for bringing awareness to the issue.

I would appreciate the opportunity to provide an additional perspective.

Achieving reading proficiency by third grade is considered a major stepping stone for student achievement. Missing this milestone is a harbinger of struggle and academic underperformance.

The statistics PPCC’s Keith Barnes quotes about college readiness and retention rates for Black students started with Black students failing to achieve that critical third grade reading proficiency.

Seventy-five percent of Black and Hispanic third-grade students statewide failed to meet expectations on the 2019 state reading assessment (CMAS, English Language Arts). This rate is in contrast to 51 percent for white students — a 24 percent achievement gap.



The rate for white students is also terrible, but children of color are at a significant disadvantage.
The state reading scores have been terrible as far back as records are available, and in 2012 the state Legislature passed the READ Act to address the crisis. Over $230 million has been invested specifically to improve reading scores since the law was passed. Yet scores have not improved.

Districts such as Colorado Springs School District 11 have done their best to improve reading scores, spending millions on new reading programs, yet scores have remained extremely low. For example, in 2019, 82.6 percent of Black third-grade students did not meet expectations on the state reading test.

To give you an example of middle school scores, I looked up scores for Panorama Middle School in Harrison School District 2. In 2019 there were 114 Black students in grades six through eight. Only 22 met expectations, 19.3 percent. Worse, only four passed the state math test.

These statistics are not anomalies. They represent long-standing challenges, and they’re the best our community and schools have been able to do.

These statistics were only selected to provide an example of the challenge we face locally and nationally regarding equity in education. They are not intended to blame or pick on any school or district. I know the teachers are caring and doing their best, but the system is not working for so many of our children. Our community needs to know the reality of the numbers and find better ways to support our teachers.



Until we can address the inequities in education, starting in kindergarten, it is hard to imagine improvements at the high school and post-secondary levels.

It starts in the home. Most students who struggle entered kindergarten behind in key foundational skills that empower success and never caught up. The current educational approach is clearly not working for these students.

In D-11, and in general, there is a large disparity between schools serving resourced populations vs. schools serving under-resourced populations.

For example, in 2019, 64.6 percent of third grade students at Chipeta Elementary met expectations on the state reading assessment. Chipeta had a 17.5 percent rate for the school lunch program in 2019.

In contrast, Queen Palmer Elementary had a 89.1 percent school lunch program rate. Only 15.6 percent of third grade students met expectations. That is a 49-point gap compared to Chipeta.
Both schools used the same curriculum, and teachers from both schools had the same professional development.

How can D-11, or any district, explain this disparity between schools serving resourced populations versus schools serving under-resourced populations?

This is a national issue but we need to address it locally, so we are working to address this need at the grassroots level.

Family engagement is vital, and that’s what drives the work of Crutcher Cornerstone Community Development Corporation (3CDC). The work that Nicholas Crutcher is doing at Cornerstone is making a difference and needs community support.

Black students are the lowest-performing group nationwide based on 2019 NAEP scores (tinyurl.com/USA-read-score). Imagine if in three to five years, you looked at the state reading scores again and discovered they are the highest-performing ethnic group in Colorado Springs.
We are working to make that a reality.

You can learn more about The Reading Success Movement and The Black Youth Success Movement here.

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