United Way says early education can help low scoring third graders in reading

United Way urges community to "spend smarter" on early grades

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A new United Way report card calls for investment in early childhood programs to combat low reading test scores in Erie County.

Buffalo and Lackawanna ranked last in Erie County with 12 percent of third graders scoring at grade level.

The report was based on state assessment tests given last year in districts across Erie County. The New York State average for third-graders who can read at their grade-level proficiency is 31 percent. Erie County’s average is just under that, at 30 percent.

While some districts scored high above the state average, others did not.

Schools like Eden and Cheektowaga also scored below average — 25 percent and 21 percent respectively. The United Way report said school districts in outer suburbs of Buffalo tended to have higher proficiency rates than inner-ring suburbs and the city schools themselves.

East Aurora was at the top for Erie County, with 60 percent of third graders being able to read at their grade-level proficiency. They were followed by Orchard Park and Williamsville, with each having 55 percent of third-graders at grade level.

Melodie Baker heads up the United Way’s program to put a spotlight on the link between reading in third grade and success in life.

“Third grade is really the only indicator that we have to measure how well we are doing in the early years,” said Baker, United Way’s director of education. “What we’d like to do is invest early on in the earlier years. The more dollars that you have, the higher return on investment that you have.”

One of those returns is higher graduation rates. The report notes that children who test below grade level in third grade are less likely to graduate from high school.

It also illustrates the link between poverty and test scores. In Erie County, On average children coming from low income households are 12 to 14 months behind children in middle and upper income families when they start school.

“We want to talk about ways to spend smarter and invest in programs and early childhood programs that work,” said Baker.

Buffalo’s low reading scores has led to what the district is calling its New Education Bargain with students and families.

Elements include strong community schools, services for the neediest students, opportunities for Saturday and summer learning and working with parents.

“We’re very aware of our scores and reading and writing are the utmost urgency for us to address.  That’s why Dr. Cash (Superintendent Kriner Cash) included the early education plank in the new education bargain,” said Anne Botticelli, chief academic officer of the Buffalo School District.

These students also need extra help especially during the summer.

That’s the mission of a volunteer program organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York.

“It’s key to the future of buffalo because we need an empowered population. We need a population that can be the best that we can be, and that’s the gift we’re giving,” said Bishop William Franklin.

The church’s Eaton Summer Reading Camp needs volunteers.

It starts July 5 at the Church of the Good Shepherd near the Buffalo Zoo.

The United Way report also focused on math scores.

Buffalo third-graders scored at 17 percent, lower than New York’s 42 percent average but Lackawanna was the lowest at 12 percent.

Williamsville, East Aurora and Orchard Park scored above average on the charts once again at 68, 67 and 63 percent, but the top Erie County district for third-grade math proficiency was Clarence at 70 percent.

United Way identified five factors that influence third-grade reading and math scores.

  • Skills developed before Kindergarten
  • The widening development gap among toddlers
  • A child’s early interactions with parents
  • Frequency of interactions with children
  • Child engagement in interactive dialogue

According to the full report from United Way, what the statistics mean is that less than half of the third-graders at 83 percent of Erie County elementary schools read at their grade level. 64 percent of Erie County elementary schools are in the same situation for math levels.

MORE | See the full United Way report on third-grade proficiency here.

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