More help is on the way for black Charleston students reading below level

Charleston County public schools are doing a poor job educating black students. The worst results are in Reading, which is the foundation for all learning.

Among 3rd-grade black students, only 16% read at their level vs. 59% for white students. The black-white Reading gap is nearly twice as wide as it is for Math (chart below).

The ACT Aspire assessment tests given to Charleston County public school students in spring 2015 showed a wider gap in Reading proficiency among black students compared to white students, as revealed in the 3rd-grade results of this chart.. SOURCE: Charleston County School District.

The ACT Aspire assessment tests given to Charleston County public school students in spring 2015 showed a wider gap in Reading proficiency among black students compared to white students, as revealed in the 3rd-grade results of this chart..

SOURCE: Charleston County School District.

There are hopeful signs that the county system, finally, is giving black students more and better help in Reading. Dr. Valerie E. Harrison, the recently appointed Chief Academic Officer, told us last month about instructional improvements focused on struggling readers.

Here are two more improvements Harrison has told us about:

  • "'Text Talk' has been used in many of our schools to increase vocabulary development in K-2 students. But there has not been a systematic method of assessing its effectiveness in increasing vocabulary. In 2016-17, Text Talk will be implemented in five at-risk schools in grades K-2. Teachers will receive the training and materials necessary to implement with fidelity and a method to assess its effectiveness will be developed.
  • "One of the outcomes of our studies has been the obvious need for greater focus on the “bubble” student, i.e. those who are not that far from 'Ready.' In 2016-17, greater emphasis will be placed on providing intervention support for [those] students."

Reading interventions to help struggling students are labor-intensive. The county school system's fiscal problems - worsened by recently uncovered mismanagement - is putting pressure on intervention programs. But these programs are critical to equal education for blacks, who are close to 50% of the county system's enrollment. They must be improved and expanded. 

- TOM GRUBISICH