B.C. education minister wants new focus on reading
One-third of students aren’t meeting expectations
Reading in the early grades will be the top priority for the next school year in B.C. because one in three children still struggle with literacy.
That was the message Education Minister George Abbott delivered Wednesday in a mass email to the province’s teachers. He said he’s impressed with teachers’ passionate efforts to improve student achievement and now needs their help to fix a problem that persists — despite an array of literacy initiatives over a number of years.
The email includes a link to a document titled A New Focus on Reading, which notes his earlier promise of $10.7 million for reading initiatives in 2012-13 and announces that Maureen Dockendorf, an assistant superintendent in Coquitlam, has been named B.C.’s first Superintendent of Reading.
To lead this latest effort, Dockendorf will draw on research and an understanding of what builds reading success in kindergarten to Grade 3, the document says.
“Every student has the potential to be a successful reader given the right supports and opportunities,” it states. “Our goal is to support teachers by further building their capacity as the leaders at the heart of early reading success for every student.”
The province also plans a review of various literacy programs around the province to determine why some schools have had exceptional success in teaching their students to read while others have not.
“In many communities across the province we can see outstanding examples of early reading success. But despite our best efforts to date, the 2012 Foundational Skills Assessment data tells us that provincially only 70 per cent of Grade 4 students and 64 per cent of Grade 7 students are meeting or exceeding expectations in reading,” the paper says, noting the range between the lowest- and highest-performing districts is wide.
“Where this success has happened, has invariably been the result of a deliberate and relentless focus on reading success, which is precisely what we hope to instil across the province this year.”
Neither the document nor the email mentions any specific initiatives that have proven successful. But Abbott promises teachers he will keep them informed of important developments in weeks ahead and invites their input and feedback. “I hope that this exchange of ideas and information will encourage ongoing collaboration as we move forward with efforts to improve our education system for all students.”
The email caught the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) by surprise, and vice-president Glen Hansman said he would have preferred if the minister had reached out to the union first since it represents all public school teachers. “It’s definitely unusual,” he added.
Teachers agree that early intervention with struggling readers is essential, Hansman said, but the email does not indicate what might be done to address the problem. “Great, we’re going to make literacy a priority. But how are we going to do it if we don’t have specialist teachers? How are we going to do it when we aren’t able to provide vulnerable kids with the services they had 10 years ago?”
He also questioned why the Education Ministry identified reading as the primary focus rather than aboriginal education or special education, both of which are also in need of urgent attention.
Reaction to the email was swift. On a ministry website established for the purpose of discussion, several teachers suggested the first steps should be more teacher-librarians and smaller classes.
“Research from around the world clearly shows that when a school library is fully staffed with trained librarians and has a budget to purchase age-appropriate reading materials, student literacy rates soar,” wrote teacher Alice Kedves.
Another teacher, Paula Foot, said young children need to learn through play, without stress and demands. “If reading is pushed in kindergarten, we will reap results of low self-esteem and a reluctance to come to school, with poor implications for future learning and psychological well-being.”