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Increasing the Educational Achievement of Adolescents in Iowa through Improving Reading Attainment at an Early Academic Age
ABSTRACT: Attainment of a basic education, through 12th grade, by meeting grade level benchmarks, is crucial to not only an individual’s health and well-being but also a population’s health and well-being. This is not only physical health but also mental health and social well-being. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” A variety of personal, economic, social and environmental factors play a role in health, including education (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). These factors have a continuous and additive effect on health that accumulate over a life time (Beckles & Truman, Nov 22 2013).
Interventions need to be at or before the early adolescent period to be most effective and provide the most life-long benefit. Low reading levels are of great concerns and need to be addressed not only for the entire early adolescent population but in particular those with low income and of minority races.
Reading proficiency by then end of third grade is an important indicator of academic success, including high school graduation. Nationally, 67% of all children and 80% of those from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes do not read proficiently by the end of third grade. More than 7,500 children in the state of Iowa fall behind in reading by the end of third grade (United Way of Central Iowa).
There are already several programs within the state of Iowa such as the National Reading Recovery Program (RRP), the Early Start Family Literacy Program(ESFLP), the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program (SVPP) for 4 year olds and before-school, after-school and summer programs that can be expanded to increase the educational attainment of Iowa’s youth. Programs such as ESFLP have not been shown to be effective and should be discontinued and resources reallocated. Other programs such as the RRP and SVPP have been shown to be effective and should be expanded.
BACKGROUND: Adolescents and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24 make up 21% of the United States population. This is considered a developmental period in which behavioral patterns established during this time period help to shape a person’s health status and risk for developing chronic disease later in life (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion).
Education is considered one of the leading indicators of health and is linked to longer life expectancy, improved health and quality of life (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). High school graduates have lower rates of health problems, are less likely to go to prison, less likely to engage in risky behavior and have increased financial stability (Hahn & Truman, 2015; Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). Higher education allows for better working and economic conditions, a healthier lifestyle and greater resources. Those that are well educated are more likely to be employed, work full time, have higher incomes and less economic hardships (Ross & Wu, 1995). Individuals with lower educational levels typically have lower income and lack resources to obtain health care. They experience increased mortality, are more likely to partake in risky behavior, have decreased access to health care and when able to seek health care, experience decreased quality of health care (Beckles & Truman, Nov 22 2013). Health and education are linked in several fundamental ways. Children cannot learn if they are not healthy or are hungry.
Education about health occurs in schools and may be an individual’s only source of health education. Schools also provide physical education about the importance of having an active lifestyle (Hahn & Truman, 2015). Children who are not reading proficiently by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school (United Way of Central Iowa). In 2009, 33% of 4th grade students were considered proficient at or above the 4th grade level for reading. There were disparities by both race and income. 45.5% of 4th grade whites were considered proficient or higher, compared to only 17.7% of blacks (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). In 2015, only 38% of 3rd graders in Iowa were considered at or above the proficient reading level (Kids Count Data Center). Low income is associated with poor educational outcomes which are in turn linked to poorer long-term health. Students from families with higher incomes tend to have access to enrichment and summer programs (Knopf et al., Nov/Dec 2015). 77% of 4th graders in Iowa who received free or reduced lunch were below the proficient level for reading as compared to 51% for those not receiving free or reduced lunch (Kids Count Data Center). Family income clearly plays a role in academic success.
Poor and minority populations tend to have poorer health. Improving academic performance of these groups may have a significant impact (Knopf et al., Nov/Dec 2015). Educational programs and policies are crucial to public health interventions. Education provides for many aspects of health: basic educational skills and knowledge, ability to reason, problem solving skills, ability to control one’s emotions, ability to interact with others. Without these skills, individuals experience poorer health. If too many students fail at attaining education, these individuals may not be able to function in society and suffer lifelong disadvantages. Estimates, in 2006, of the cost of individuals over 25 years of age who fail to reach optimal education is $1.02 trillion. Increasing education is one of many ways to disrupt poverty and the inequities in health and lower the overall cost of health care (Hahn & Truman, 2015). Educational improvement programs may come at a cost but it is a much lower cost than public assistance programs, health care for the poor or the criminal justice system. For every $1 spent, there is an $11 return on that investment (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, March 2016).
The United States ranks 25 out of 29 industrialized nations for the amount of money invested in early childhood educational investments. High quality early childhood programs aimed at low-income families have been shown to improve health outcomes, health behaviors and social outcomes in adults. (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, March 2016). Investing in early child hood educational programs will have not only an immediate profound impact, but impact the student throughout his academic career and entire lifetime.
STRATEGIES: The state of Iowa has several governmental and nongovernmental early literacy intervention programs, several of which are supported by national programs. The Even Start Family Literacy Program (ESFLP) is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This is a family literacy program that promotes the educational performance of children through partnerships with schools, teachers, parents and students while trying to break the cycle of poverty and literacy. Participation is voluntary and focuses on adult education to increase adult literacy levels, early childhood education and parental support of their child’s education (Iowa Department of Education). A study by the US Department of Education in 2003 reported very few significant differences between participants of ESFLP and nonparticipants. (US Department of Education, 2003). Recent funding has been lacking and this program appears to be ineffective. Reevaluation should occur to look for areas of improvement. If the program cannot be improved, then funds should be reallocated to different programs.
The Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program (SVPP) for 4 year olds in Iowa is a state funded program designed to increase the access of quality preschool education across the state. Other funding sources support the involvement of additional children. SVPP is required to provide at least 10 hours per week of developmentally appropriate instruction. Through FAST assessments, proficiency in early literacy skills has increased for those entering kindergarten from 53% in 2014 to 64% in 2015 (Iowa Department of Education). Further development and implementation for the SVPP will increase access to quality preschool education which is key to starting a child’s academic career.
Some schools in Iowa participate in the National Reading Recovery Program (RRP) for first graders. This program provides students with individualized, one on one tutoring through daily 30 minute sessions for 12 to 20 weeks, depending on the needs of the student. This program provides for professional learning and establishment of a community for collaboration among professionals. Instruction is research based using a variety of teaching methods. Both students and the program itself undergo periodic assessments. The national data provides overall feedback on the effectiveness of the program and data can be used on a school level to determine needs within that school. The RRP is intended to be a part of a comprehensive interventional plan for each student. Each school or district establishes a literacy leadership team to create and monitor the literacy program for that school not only involving the RRP but also other interventions such as Title 1. Families are also encouraged to participate and support their students (Reading Recovery Council of North America).
72% of children who complete the RRP met grade level expectations at the end of the year. (International Data Evaluation Center). Students are evaluated before, during and after the program. This program has been shown to reduce the achievement gaps across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and English as a second language groups (Reading Recovery Council of North America). Nationally, this program has shown 131% growth for first grade students with 4.6 times greater average improvement when compared to other programs with similar outcome measurements. Results were similar for rural and English as a second language students. This program was also shown to be 2.8 times more effective in achieving reading outcomes than other instructional interventions (May, Sirinides, Gray, & Goldsworthy, March 2016).
Within Iowa, the RRP involves 5000 first graders annually. 75% of first graders who successfully completed the program scored average or better on reading and writing competencies as measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. These learning gains were also maintained throughout the students’ academic career (Forbes & Szymczuk).
The Iowa After School Alliance (IASA) is another non-governmental agency that promotes early literacy in the state of Iowa. Their mission is to develop strong statewide systems for high-quality, affordable, accessible before-school, after-school and summer programs (Iowa After School Alliance). Summer reading loss equates to one month or more on the grade level equivalent scale (Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, & Greathouse, 1996). 86% of students are not served by an after-school program. Youth are most at risk between the hours of 3 pm and 6 pm. After-school programs would minimize this risk and also allow for improvement in academic skills during that time. Regular participation in high-quality after school programs is linked to significant gains in standardized test scores. Barriers to providing after school care include funding, staffing and transportation (Iowa After School Alliance, Oct 2016). The IASA goal is to develop well rounded communicators through the practice of reading and writing and reinforce basic skills. Literacy should be fun and a form of self-expression. This program seeks to instill the love of reading and writing in its students and to integrate literacy into other subjects (Iowa After School Alliance).
IASA identifies several effective reading strategies that promote literacy including individual group and small group instruction. IASA also promotes learning through play, reading out loud and summer educational programs. Low income students loose more than two months of learning over the summer. However, middle class students tend to gain learning over the summer as they have an increased access to programs (Iowa After School Alliance).
RECOMMENDATIONS: Expansion of these Iowa programs, including the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program, the Reading Recovery Program, Out of School Program (before-school, after-school and summer) could provide today’s adolescents with the best start to their academic care. Their lives and overall health would be improved for a lifetime. The Iowa Department of Education can oversee expansion with the initiative and program implementation on the local district level. Districts with minority or socioeconomically disadvantages populations should be targeted. School districts, with the help of the Iowa Department of Education, need to evaluate their students, enroll and implement the programs such as Reading Recovery and evaluate the student’s progress to ensure success. Progress will be tracked not only during the school year but also with standardized testing. Reading proficiency levels should increase yearly for every grade level from the time the program(s) are implemented throughout the student’s academic career.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION: The largest obstacle to implementing Reading Recovery, expanding the Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program and/or expanding and/or implementing Out of School programs is funding for the programs and hiring qualified staff to run such programs. Districts need to identify teachers willing to participate in these programs, train these teachers appropriately and compensate teachers accordingly for their extra time and skills. Funding can be sought from various sources including the local tax base, the Iowa Department of Education, the United States Department of Education and various nongovernmental organizations such as the Iowa Out of School Alliance and the United Way of Iowa. Partnering with these nongovernmental organizations would also take some pressure for resources in terms of both personnel and financial off of the districts. Programs do not need to be created but either expanded or implemented.
Education is considered one of the leading indicators of health and is linked to longer life expectancy, improved health and quality of life (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). Low income is associated with poor educational outcomes which are in turn linked to poorer long-term health. Students from families with higher incomes tend to have access to enrichment and summer programs (Knopf et al., Nov/Dec 2015). Children who are not reading proficiently by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school (United Way of Central Iowa). Interventions need to be at or before the early adolescent period to be most effective and provide the most life-long benefit. Low reading levels are of great concerns and need to be addressed not only for the entire early adolescent population but in particular those with low income and of minority races. Investing in early child hood educational programs will have not only an immediate profound impact, but also impact the student throughout his academic career and entire lifetime.
Beckles, G. L., & Truman, B. (Nov 22 2013). Education and Income – United States, 2009-2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 62(3), 9-19.
Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 227-268. doi:10.3102/00346543066003227
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Hahn, R., & Truman, B. (2015). Education Improves Public Health and Promotes Health Equity. International Journal of Health Services, 45(4), 657-678. doi:doi:10.1177/0020731415585986
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