Why are more of Connecticut's schoolchildren losing ground in reading?
Too much television?
State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan pledged Wednesday to ask some of the state's leading educators and researchers to get to the bottom of a discouraging slump in reading performance on statewide tests.
"This is an issue we have to try to get our arms around because if we don't, we're going to continue to slide," McQuillan said as he announced plans for a reading summit of top experts in October.
In his first back-to-school message since becoming commissioner last spring, McQuillan made it clear that bolstering reading performance will be a priority of the state education department.
Last month, the state reported another erosion of reading scores on this year's Connecticut Mastery Test, continuing a downward trend that began five years ago. That mirrors a similar decline by Connecticut students on an earlier nationwide test.
McQuillan said he wants to examine issues such as how schools manage time, which reading programs work best and how teachers are trained. He said there may be many reasons for the decline in reading skills, including lack of parental involvement and the influence of television and other media.
"It's a known fact that a large number of students, when given the opportunity, will not read but instead will be on the Internet or looking at television," he said.
Across the state, one in five third-graders on the latest mastery test scored in the lowest, or "below basic," reading category - meaning they cannot perform basic reading tasks without help.
Of particular concern are severely lagging scores among low-income and minority students.
For example, in Hartford and New Britain, where there are large concentrations of low-income and minority children, more than half the third-graders fell into the lowest reading category.
In releasing statewide scores last month, McQuillan pledged to push for an expansion of training requirements for teachers, saying that many new teachers are not well prepared to teach beginning reading.
Another means of improving reading is to make preschool classes more widely available, McQuillan said Wednesday. "Early childhood education is our best preventive mechanism [to stop] early reading failure," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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