Opinion Columns & Blogs

Rural schools leading way in teaching Kansas kids to read

Chase Combs, an enthusiastic third grader, is from the rural town of Langdon. He loves going to his school, Fairfield Elementary, and seeing his friends and teachers.

But every day Chase faces the same challenge – reading. He needs help recognizing letters and sounds and making sense in how they all fit together.

Chase is not alone in facing reading challenges. Sixty-two percent of kids in Kansas – and 78 percent of the state’s low-income students – are not reading at proficient levels by fourth grade, putting them at risk of dropping out of school and facing an uncertain future.

Why do so many readers struggle early on?

One reason is that students learn differently and can face barriers to success, such as poverty.

Research shows that it takes some children longer to learn the underlying sounds and symbols necessary to become fluent readers. The good news is there is a reading program called the Kansas Reading Roadmap that is already helping more than 11,000 students in 50 schools in Kansas learn to read by providing extra support. Most importantly, this support is aligned with school day instruction and data.

Here is how the Kansas Reading Roadmap works. It teams up with schools committed to providing high-quality teaching through the Kansas Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Using Kansas MTSS, schools identify the unique needs of every student, and the Kansas Reading Roadmap then offers those children afterschool, family engagement and summer programs.

It is the combination of schools and out-of-school programs working together that results in greater reading achievement. This improved system allows for a more individualized education experience for every student, no matter his or her skill level.

The Kansas Reading Roadmap is committed to ensuring that students in pre-kindergarten through third grade have the foundation and opportunity to gain proficiency in reading. Funding from the Kansas Department for Children and Families, with technical support by the Kansas State Department of Education, makes the Kansas Reading Roadmap possible.

We started in 2014 with rural elementary schools, where communities face issues of systemic poverty. But now, Kansas Reading Roadmap programs are also in Wichita and Kansas City, Kan.

So far, the results from this effort have been promising. Some schools have even shown progress in just one semester using the program, and students such as Chase are seeing significant improvements. Reading test scores are going up, and more than half of Kansas Reading Roadmap third graders are now performing at benchmark, compared with the state average of 35 percent.

All students deserve the opportunity for a quality education. Early reading proficiency is key to making this a reality. We hope the Kansas Reading Roadmap can be an example of Kansas innovation for schools across the nation.

To read more about the independent evaluation of the Kansas Reading Roadmap and the overall model, visit kansasreadingroadmap.org.

Andrew Hysell is executive director of Kansas Reading Roadmaps.