Maine Musings: March 17 2016

Right now only about one-third of all children attending school in the United States can read proficiently by fourth grade. The numbers are even more dismaying for our most vulnerable students. How can state policymakers lessen the achievement gap and improve literacy outcomes for all children?

A new report from New America’s Education Policy Program examined the state of early education policy in all 50 states and Washington, DC and offers a framework for moving forward.

From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth- 3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers, ranks states on 65 indicators in seven policy areas. The report found that most states are not taking a comprehensive approach when it comes to developing children’s literacy skills. Accompanying the research are interactive maps of state progress displayed via New America’s data visualization and policy analysis tool, Atlas.

Along the marathon course towards life success are several checkpoints for all children: kindergarten readiness, third grade reading proficiency, and of course high school graduation. States can help or hinder students in reaching these points. Right now, 11 states are crawling toward making sure children are able to read well by third grade. The majority of states, 34 and Washington, DC, are toddling. Only five states are walking: New York, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. No state is running.

“Even New York, the highest scoring state, only earned the equivalent of a ‘C’ in letter grades,” says Laura Bornfreund, director of New America’s Early & Elementary Education team and lead author of the report.

Some of the highest scoring states might come as a surprise, such as West Virginia, which doesn’t always rise to the top on most state rankings. The report explains that West Virginia stands out because of its robust state pre-K program that includes basic quality indicators; it also requires districts to offer full-day kindergarten under state statute.

From Crawling to Walking measures states on a broad set of policy indicators that can help ensure children are on track to read on grade level by the end of third grade. For instance, states that prioritize the preparation and development of teachers of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and the early elementary grades, as well as leaders of elementary schools and child care centers, are in a better position to meet this goal. But while a focus on educators is salient, it’s not enough on its own. States must also have in place:

  • Strong standards, assessments, and data systems;
  • Equitable funding;
  • High-quality pre-K;
  • Full-Day Kindergarten;
  • Supports for dual language learners;
  • And when they exist, third grade reading laws that focus on identification and intervention over holding children back.

The majority of states fall into the Toddling category, meaning they are meeting some indicators but clearly lacking on others. Finally, the report identifies the 11 states that have the most work to do–Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona, North Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Montana– as Crawling. The majority of states in this category do not have public pre-K programs and do not require districts to provide full-day kindergarten.

This scan of state policies finds that most states are far from the kind of unified alignment that fosters a strong early learning continuum for children. According to the report, “Several states are tackling pieces fairly well, but real progress will occur when states begin to knit those discrete policies together.”

The full report is available here.

~Source: New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program, From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth- 3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers, by Laura Bornfreund, Abbie Lieberman, Shayna Cook, Aaron Lowenberg

Mainely Kids

Here’s what they had to say about Maine’s approach when it comes to developing children’s literacy skills. Maine’s ranking was Toddling.

Educators: Teachers and Leaders
Maine has an early childhood education (ECE) teaching license that spans birth to age five (excluding kindergarten) as well as an early elementary license that spans kindergarten to third grade. Maine’s general elementary license spans kindergarten to eighth grade. Educators are not required to possess an ECE license in order to teach kindergarten. Maine does not require principals to have specialized preparation in ECE prior to leading an elementary school. For licensed child care centers, directors of child care centers must have at least some classes in early childhood education. Lead teachers in child care centers can teach with the minimum of a high school diploma.

Standards, Assessment, and Data
Maine has comprehensive early learning guidelines for pre-K, infants, and toddlers, while also providing college and career-ready standards for grades K-12. When it comes to dual language learners, Maine’s early learning standards specifically mention these learners in a separate section. While some states have developed K-12 social-emotional learning standards with specific indicators at each grade level, Maine has not.

Maine is in the process of developing a common statewide kindergarten entry assessment (KEA) that covers multiple domains of learning including: language and literacy development, cognitive development and general knowledge, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical well-being and motor development. Maine is a member of the K-3 Formative Assessment Consortium.

The state’s ECE programs do not link individual child data to the state K-12 longitudinal data system. Maine does collect ECE screening and assessment data from at least one type of program in its state data system. Maine’sQuality for ME QRIS is a statewide system that began in 2008. It does not rate programs on teacher-child interactions.

Equitable Funding
One way to help create a stable source of pre-K funding is through the state’s K-12 school funding formula. At this time, Maine funds pre-K programs through this mechanism. Maine has a regressive funding distribution, providing its highest-poverty districts with about 85 cents for every dollar in low-poverty districts. The federal government recommends that states reimburse child care centers for children from families receiving child care subsidies at the 75th percentile of the state market rate for child care. Maine does not meet this threshold. In Cumberland County, for instance, thereimbursement rate for a four-year-old is 15 percent less than the 2013 market rate. Maine reimburses child care centers based on a tiered system for quality.

Pre-K: Access and Quality
Maine currently has a state-funded pre-K program, though the program does not serve 3-year-olds. The length of day for Maine’s pre-K program is determined locally. Pre-K teachers in state-funded programs are required to have a bachelor’s degree and specialization in ECE. Assistant teachers are required to possess the minimum of a Child Development Associate.

Full-Day Kindergarten: Access and Quality
Maine statute does not require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten, but districts offering full-day kindergarten are banned from charging tuition. The minimum length of day in full-day kindergarten is not equivalent to that of first grade. Based on a 2005 report from the Education Commission of the States, full-day kindergarten is funded at the same rate as first grade.

Dual Language Learner Supports
Maine has various rules governing native language instruction. Transitional instruction using bilingual techniques may be provided to DLLs and schools can also establish bilingual programs for the purpose of providing proficiency in both English and a second language. Dual language learners in Maine must achieve a proficient score on the WIDA ACCESS test in order to exit the DLL system. Maine’s family engagement laws do not specifically mention families that speak languages other than English at home. Bilingual non-English classes are permitted in pre-K. Maine pre-K programs are required to screen for DLLs and provide families with a home language survey.

3rd Grade Reading Laws
Currently, Maine does not have a third grade reading law.

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
In Math, the percentage of fourth grade students in Maine who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level in 2015 was 41 percent for all students and 27 percent for low-income students. In Reading, the percentage of fourth grade students in Maine who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level in 2015 was 36 percent for all students and 23 percent for low-income students.