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About Last Night: Right to Read and Literacy in New Haven

It was an exciting night for proponents of Connecticut’s “Right to Read” legislation. In an event hosted by New Haven Reads at the Barack H. Obama Magnet University School, over two hundred people gathered in-person—and over three hundred more tuned in on the live stream—to hear from national literacy experts Emily Hanford (American Public Media) and Kymyona Burk (ExcelinEd). Also featured were Dr. Margie Gillis (Literacy How), Dr. Tamu Lucero (Stamford Public Schools), Amy Dowell, and Ashley Stockton (New Haven Public Schools). Each had a unique perspective about the science behind reading and the importance of implementing Connecticut's Right to Read legislation.

Hanford's poignant presentation, building on her popular podcast this fall, “Sold a Story, explained how teachers across the country have been taught incorrect and harmful information about how to build literacy skills—information that runs contrary to decades of international research in developmental psychology, educational psychology, and cognitive science.

Research shows that the majority of students need explicit instruction to build decoding skills. But affluent families can often make up for any shortcomings that their children encounter in their schools’ early literacy curriculum. The equity implications of this misinformation are enormous.

Indeed, Dr. Kymyona Burk’s presentation featured disaggregated results in reading from the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). White 4th grade students in Connecticut have a scale score of 233, performing well above the national public scale score of 226. (Ten points on the NAEP results for reading, Dr. Burk told the audience, represents a full grade level.) But the outcomes for Black and Hispanic 4th graders in Connecticut are markedly different. We’ve re-pulled the NAEP data Dr. Burk referenced below, for those who couldn’t see her presentation in-person last night.

Black students in Connecticut achieve the same score as Black 4th graders nationwide, a full thirty-five points lower than their White peers in Connecticut.

For Hispanic 4th graders, the comparisons are worse. In Connecticut, they perform five points below the performance of their Hispanic peers nationwide. “We can no longer judge student success by the success of our White students,” Dr. Burk proclaimed to applause.

On the panel, Amy Dowell discussed the tremendous leadership of Senator Pat Billie Miller, who is spearheading Connecticut’s effort to address this critical problem. Senator Miller sponsored the Right to Read bill that finally requires all Connecticut public school districts to use the science of reading in grades K-3. "This is an expensive time for school districts, but this is the exact purpose of ESSER dollars. They were designated for learning recovery." Amy noted. "We gave districts time to absorb this, and now we need to set deadlines and see it through to fruition so that we can help more students read."

You can watch the full event that was live-streamed on the Right to Read Twitter handle here.

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