Six years after launching reading initiative, here’s where KC’s third-graders stand

Six years after Mayor Sly James launched an ambitious city-wide initiative to raise reading levels for third-graders, Kansas City remains below the state average.

“We have made progress. We’ve made great strides to increase our third-grade reading proficiency rate,” the mayor wrote in a report released this week on the initiative.

James started Turn the Page KC in 2011 based on the concept that “if a student cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade their likeliness of future academic success drops,” as stated on the initiative’s website.

Six years ago, 33 percent of Kansas City’s students were proficient in reading by the end of third grade. Today, 55 percent are proficient, but that is still below the state average of 62 percent.

“In order for our city average to reach and go beyond the state average we’re going to need to close some major gaps,” James said.

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Kansas City’s report on third-grade reading levels shows an achievement gap for black and Hispanic students. Mayor Sly James

Those gaps, based on state standardized test scores, are for the most part among black and Hispanic students across the city.

In 2017, black students made up 42 percent of the third-grade students in Kansas City, but only 27 percent of the third-graders who were proficient or advanced in reading. Hispanic students account for 17 percent of the third-grade population and 13 percent of those who were proficient or advanced in reading.

“Meanwhile white students, who make up 39 percent of the third-grade population, account for 57 percent of the proficient/advanced population,” the report says.

Acknowledging that disparities in some social and economic factors are at play when it comes to who achieves what, James, in his report, says the current success of the program indicates the goal is reachable.

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Mayor James’ report on third-grade reading level rates shows the percentage of students who are reading proficiently in the city’s schools. Mayor Sly James

“We can do better, but we’ll all have to roll up our sleeves,” James said. He points to a need for more quality pre-kindergarten and early learning services, including home visiting programs and health screenings.

Mark Bedell, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools said “We have to address the issues of race and poverty as a city ....” Bedell said he agrees with James on expanding early childhood education.

“We know how important it is for students to come to Kindergarten prepared to learn and excel,” Bedell said. “Many of our students come in behind, and if we are able to put academic and social emotional interventions in on the front end, we are much better off as a community. This is going to take a lot of community support as well as financial support at the local and state levels.”

It’s and investment, Bedell said, that will lead to better achievement for Kansas City’s children.

“Schools, families, nonprofits, program providers and community members must be a part of it,” James said.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc