Results from the Nation’s Report Card

Our nation can’t rely on testing or any other single intervention as the silver bullet for our educational problems. Teachers, parents and policymakers must work together to build an ecosystem for learning — one that doesn’t rely on quick-fix fads of the moment but builds a sustainable educational environment for multiple generations. A thriving ecosystem must revolve around its most long-standing component — the family — as the best way to nurture success.

Here are four important statistics from the National Assessment on Educational Progress’ reading report released on November 1, which showed mixed results with the strongest gains being marginal:

  1. Parents, through their income and education, have a strong bearing on their children’s academic performance. A disproportionate number of fourth- and eighth-grade students eligible for the National School Lunch Program are scoring in the lowest reading percentiles. In addition, as reported in the eighth-grade background characteristics, parents’ education has an impact on their children’s performance. Expanding training for parents in specific reading strategies to support their children’s reading skills and acquisition, as well as to improve their own education, will improve scores in their children’s reading achievement.The National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) has several programs specifically designed to train parents in easy-to-use, research-based strategies that equip them to help their children learn to read and improve their literacy. NCFL research and expertise has shown that any parent, regardless of educational level, can deliver effective and meaningful support that increases his or her children’s literacy.
    NCFL also has a wealth of tools, from book cards to online resources, to guide parents in creating everyday routines and opportunities to build literacy and reading skills. Some are available on NCFL’s website and through its own online community, Wonderopolis®.org, which TIME Magazine recently named a top website for 2011.
  2. Children’s performance improves if they read for fun. High-performing fourth- and eighth-graders read for fun at much higher rates than low-performing readers. Children who enjoy reading are predisposed to do it better and more often. NCFL promotes a variety of ways for teachers and parents to motivate their children to read and make learning a lifelong process.NCFL created after interviewing parents nationwide about their observations of and concerns about their children’s education and reading acquisition. Families and educators receive a Wonder of the Day® to ignite a love of learning in children and students through their everyday routines — both online and offline.
    Wonderopolis also is an effective way to teach nonfiction reading, which the Common Core State Standards identify as a critical skill.
  3. The percentage of Hispanic students is rising, while the percentage of white and black students is declining. Although this statistic isn’t directly related to performance, it is one of the most important. We must continue to work to close the achievement gap for all students. In particular, the NAEP demographics should sound a warning alarm that our schools, communities and work force can’t afford to have our largest and fastest growing minority falling behind.That’s why the National Center for Family Literacy has several programs and tools specifically tailored to reaching the Hispanic family, including:
    • The Toyota Family Literacy Program, which places parents and children together in a classroom, but also includes programming that is culturally relevant to the populations served. Program participants have experienced extraordinary outcomes in English language and literacy development, parent involvement and engagement, literacy behaviors at home, and school-related attitudes and behaviors.
    • Free bilingual online resources to help Hispanic families prepare for college. The tools assist with making education a family goal and ensuring parent involvement in education.
  4. The American Indian achievement gap for fourth-grade reading is at its widest point since the assessment began. Though our partnership with the Bureau of Indian Education, NCFL’s model used in the Family and Child Education (FACE) Program is in place at 44 schools in 10 states and serves approximately 4,600 participants.This comprehensive approach proves that early childhood intervention, coupled with adult education and parental learning strategies, yields strong results.
    School readiness data indicates that participation in FACE is successful in leveling the playing field for the neediest children and for children with special needs. Preschool children’s vocabulary and language comprehension scores increased from the 23rd to 45th percentile, near the national average, and they are half as likely to require services for special needs when they enter kindergarten. Meanwhile, 82 percent of center-based adults improved their computer literacy skills. Significant, lasting gains also were made in parental involvement and reading in the home.

There are many families and teachers working to make this thriving educational ecosystem a reality. And they are finding innovative ways to do so. For example, there are plenty of free resources for families and schools to improve learning. Through more than 20 years of research and programming, NCFL knows that families are an engine for progress when they learn together.

America’s most enduring and precious resource — the family — always has been and remains the best solution to our current literacy and educational dilemma.