Over a third of kids enter school below standard

| 18/04/2016 | 33 Comments
Cayman Neww Service

Primary school children are getting help with early reading skills

(CNS): A new quick assessment of the literacy ability of children entering Year 1 of the government school system indicated that 36% of kids who started school in September were below standard. But a new literary intervention programme has been piloted in the primary schools, which officials said has had a positive impact on those students. Education officials explained that 391 Year 1 children were screened at the start of this school year and only 261 were considered to be on target from the composite score of the two one-minute tests they were given. Sixty-seven (17%) were considered well below standard.

Officials said the programme, which is sponsored by local charity Literacy Is For Everyone (LIFE), is being implemented in Year 1 of all government primary schools for at-risk students reading well below grade level. It provides intervention strategies to help the young learners reach benchmark levels before they move forward in the system.

Students who scored well below benchmark are targeted for intervention and have continued to be monitored and assessed approximately every three weeks by the schools’ special education needs coordinators (SENCOs), educators said.

In the critical area of First Sound Fluency, which is phonic awareness, 63% (248 children) were up to standard at the start of the year, 28% (109 children) were in the red zone, meaning they were well below standard and in need of intervention, and another 9% (34) were in the yellow zone, meaning they were below standard in this area. However, when the tests were repeated in December (387 children at the time), the number of students up to standard in FSF was 73% (282 children), a jump of 10%. However, 14% (55 children) still needed intervention and another 13% (50 children) were below standard in this area.

The other test given at the start of the school year and in December was Letter Naming Fluency (NLF). In addition, two new assessments were introduced in December: Phoneme Segmentation Fluency (PSF) and Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF). Educators explained that PSF is a more comprehensive measure of phonemic awareness, where students are required to sound all the way through select words to measure if they can identify the initial sound (onset), final sound (rime), and the medial sound. NWF measures student understanding of alphabetic principle and basic phonics. These two areas, along with FSF and LNF will be assessed in June 2016.

So, while there was a drop in the composite scores by December to 59%, Brad Wilson, Literacy Specialist in the Ministry of Education, explained that Letter Naming Fluency (NLF) is not an early basic literacy skill. “Simply because knowing the letter names doesn’t actually help a child learn how to read,” he noted. While there is a correlation between students who know their letter names and future reading success, he said this isn’t as strong of a correlation as the other assessments, which is why the composite score is not as important at this stage as the individual basic literacy scores.

“Although we are very pleased with the gains that have been made and what the scores are showing, the numbers don’t tell the whole story,” Wilson said. “Benchmark thresholds increase between each term, so it is important to note that a student can make significant growth and yet still be within the red zone; this is why school-based and in-depth data analysis and meetings are critical.

“Having said that, we are definitely seeing marked improvement in the literacy levels just months into our Response To Intervention (RTI) programme, and are well on our way to meeting our goal of having all of our Year 1 students on benchmark level before they enter Year 2.  Good teaching will lead to good results so the focus is on improving instruction; the data will take care of itself.”

Education Minister Tara Rivers, who has been focusing on trying to improve the local standard of education but criticised for not acting quickly enough, said long-term studies show there is a 90% chance that a child who is not reading at grade level by end of Year 2 will never read at grade level without significant intervention.

“That means we have a two-year window to get children reading, and this programme has demonstrated that it is very possible,” the minister stated in a release about the intervention project.

“It takes intentional leadership, solid teaching, intervention and a commitment to making it happen, and we have all of these,” she said. “There is no reason that we cannot turn the tide on this epidemic that has been plaguing our education system for too long and start preparing our children for success from the moment they begin their school careers.”

She added that it was the first time the education system has taken a proactive approach to literacy in the primary years and there was still much to do.

“Although still in the early stages, this new intervention approach in the primary schools is showing encouraging results so far, and we are expecting a positive outcome in June for this pilot group,” the minister said. “There are a few things we hope to do, including training our SENCOs to perform more intensive, individualised interventions; providing additional support for schools with high needs through reallocation of staff; putting steps in place to extend the Response To Intervention (RTI) approach into Year 2 in the next academic year; restructuring all Special Education Needs (SEN) services to conform to the RTI process; and utilising private/public partnerships to assist us with the purchase of intervention materials.”

Officials explained that the short internationally recognised assessment, called Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), determines what most children should be able to do at different ages. Each test takes one minute and is meant to be an indicator rather than a diagnosis.

Children scoring between 5-10 points are considered above benchmark or in the green zone. Two points less is below benchmark (the yellow zone), while anything less than that is well below benchmark (the red zone).

Wilson said that students who score well above benchmark have an 83% chance of continuing to meet benchmark, illustrating the importance of intervention. However, he warned that the assessments cannot account for student-related issues, ineffective teaching, poor curriculum design or a combination of the three, and said a collaborative approach was needed to determine the area of weakness before drawing conclusions.

The money for the extra intervention is provided by LIFE, which officials said is donating around $65,000 per year across government primary and secondary schools to improve literacy standards, along with other sponsors, Rotary Sunrise and Harbour House Marina.

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Comments (33)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    As someone who work in early years; we cannot keep up with the changes made by those who get to decide.
    There was a time when we actively taught the sounds of letters, their formation and even letter recognition to 2.5-4 year old. This is still being done but less so.. We are constantly being ‘told let the children play, when they get into primary school they will be taught this’.
    If we can only get enough people to give one program a try long enough to see if it actually works before changing to something else; maybe we will be able to better gauge what really works or what is a waste of time and money.
    For my centre, we are incorporating learning with play. Still teaching letters, their sounds and allowing the children to practice forming the letters; all in an effort to combine all opportunities for cognition.

  2. Anonymous says:

    How does the program work and how can one get involved with it? There are many High School kids who look to get involved with community/charity programs and this may be something for them. Kids may be even more motivated to learn if other “kids” are teaching them.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Don’t worry. Rest assured the politicians will determine that they will all be employable once they graduate.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Many years ago local politicians decided to “write-off a generation”.
    Guess what – those people are now grown, and are the parents of the new generation.

  5. anonomyous says:

    The truth is that individual motivation is being destroyed by phony politicians seeking power by promising an endless series of entitlements to a population that is moving away from achievement and into the gimme zone. It is abhorrent to most of us in a country that is this small with so much money we can’t get a decent public school education for our children unless we send them to private schools. Education and hard work are the only magic bullets leading down the path to a success life!

  6. LB says:

    Q. Is the Arrowsmith Program available in other schools? A. There are more than 80 educational organizations throughout Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia offering the program to school-age children and adults.
    More Q&A. http://www.arrowsmithschool.org/arrowsmithschool-toronto/faqs.html#pab1_3

    I truly believe it is about time to invest in each and every child, current situation with employment is screaming for it.
    Read about “Why is Qatar investing so much in education?”. Future proofing for its children!!!! Here is a quote: “The events of the Arab Spring have shown the dissatisfaction of a young population, with rising unemployment and a lack of opportunities for young graduates.” “”Having been blessed with the wealth there is no better way of using it than education..”

  7. LB says:

    Dyslexia for example is quite common and can be corrected. Do they have dyslexia evaluation and correction specialists?

  8. Anonymous says:

    who’s surprised?…just look at your average caymanian parent…..

  9. Anonymous says:

    Ok great that they are doing something about the Year 1s….what about all the other illiterate, from Year 2,3 etc. and up to adult? Don’t pat yourself on the back yet there is a LOT of work to be done….

    • Jethro, I hate everyone, Clumpett says:

      you know, there is this great read with a student program. You could spend a little time just reading and assisting a student with their literacy. Give it a try, it is way more rewarding than cussing those that are doing something to help.

      Try being part of the solution instead of just an armchair critic.

      • Anonymous says:

        Please just acknowledge there is more work to be done, especially for the illiterate adults…there is no cuss in that comment

    • Anonymous says:

      Lack of interest or guidance from often single parent homes who just don’t care about education……don’t blame the teachers.

    • Anonymous says:

      Have you never heard of the saying Rome wasn’t built in a day! Give us chance to improve things! The idea is, if we start early in year one we won’t need as many interventions for year 2,3,4,5,6 because it will all be sorted in year 1. There is a plan, so don’t drag us down thank you very much. We are doing our best.

    • Anonymous says:

      F off with your negativity. Why don’t you try and turn the whole education system around in a flash? It can’t be done, it will take years, but moaning about what hasn’t been done yet isn’t supportive.

  10. sunrise says:

    I have stated from day one, and will continue to say what I have been preaching all along!!! EDUCATION, is the key to any community becoming the best that it will be. If we are not educated properly then we will surely see a rise in crime, drugs, prostitution, etc..
    Parents, we have to concentrate on getting our children on the right track when it comes to education. Education is the root to any successful country, it is the very breath of that society!! I am very pleased to be reading such a positive article, instead of a young person arrested for robbery or for a stabbing, etc.. But, we have to realize that education starts at home. From the time a young person can be thought, that is to recognize sounds, symbols, words, etc., we as parents have to start teaching them. We cannot be solely reliable of the education system, that is afforded to us in these Islands. We cannot say that our child is failing because of the system, when we are letting them slip through our fingers at home!! Education is a continuing process forever!! Believe it our not, learning is something that will never cease. The system is failing us a lot in most occasions, due to the fact that parents are ignoring the teaching factor for their children. We have to start teaching our children at a very young age. One of the biggest problems that I have seen is the ignorance of parents to instill the learning factor in children. We now have a broken society because of the lack of proper education that most of our young children, is obtaining that is graduating from our schools. Let us pull together and get this ship back on the right track, let us put education as a priority!!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    This is actually a positive story. Kind of sick of CNS turning EVERYTHING into a negative. The Government is actually doing something to help kids with literacy problems, and seeing improvement. Come on let’s try and support instead of tearing down for once!

    CNS: I think you must have been reading another story. This one is about a new reading initiative that is making a difference. You have to actually read the article before you criticise.

    • whatever says:

      Ummh, sorry CNS, I think he/she has actually read this exact story but is having difficulties with comprehension…

      • Edna creosote says:

        I am willing to give up my time, lots of it probably, to sit and read the article to the poster at 3.33 pm. Will this count towards PR?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Surely it cannot be a surprise that children are illiterate when their parents are too.

  13. Anonymous says:

    In my opinion this is a clear indication of why more of the Ministry’s focus and resources need to be put towards early childhood education programs i.e. in the preschools and the reception classes. Why are we waiting until Year 1 to help the children?
    During the pre-school and reception years students should be given as much intervention as needed to get them prepared for Year 1, not wait until after they’re already in the class to intervene and remediate issues. The children will already behind at that stage. Children should also be assessed for any potential learning disabilities at the reception and pre-school stage, again prior to entering Year 1.
    Shouldn’t the Ministry of Education be more pro-active rather than re-active, especially since we all know reactiveness isn’t their best skill?

    • Anonymous says:

      I know you mean well, but you don’t know what you are talking about. Assessing children at such a young age ( reception or earlier) is not helpful because they are only just developing and it might just be a developmental stage they are going through rather than a special need. Unless of course they are still not toilet trained or they don’t have age appropriate language skills and this is when a speech therapist might be involved.
      Some children who are the youngest in their class are mis diagnosed as having a special need, when really it is just because they are nearly a year younger than their peers and they haven’t reached that developmental stage yet. It’s important to understand that children develop accademically at different rates and very young children need time to adjust school life and learn social skills before they are labelled as having a special need or put into an intervention. So that’s why the assessments have started at year 1.

      • 345 says:

        10:56 thank you for your insight. You are absolutely correct and I hope other readers understand and appreciate what you have pointed out.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It would be interesting to know how many of the students that enter Year One below went to the government school Reception programme and if so, why are they leaving Reception below level. CNS, can you find out for us?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Can they tell why they are below standard? Such as problems with learning, or problems with teaching, etc.?

    CNS: Note that the test was done at the beginning of Year 1, so that’s not a relevant question.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’d be curious to know if the students were not being taught properly in the reception classes….

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, there is that. Reception teachers need extra training, they are doing a good job, but what they actually teach is not always age appropriate. For some reason reception has not been a priority, the inspectors didn’t even visit those classes during the base line assessment when reception is probably THE most important class in the whole school. It lays the foundation for the years ahead. However, Cayman schools will get there, they just need time, support from the community and from the government. Improvements are being made every year, slowly but surely.

  16. C'Mon Now! says:

    Children need to be read to by their parents before they ever get to a school environment. The biggest factor in “good” schools is the children that come through the doors each morning. The difference between children that have been read to before reaching school age and those that have not is staggering. Programs like this are sorely needed to break the cycle of poor education

  17. Anonymous says:

    when the parents can barely speak proper English honestly what do we expect?

    Furthermore, what about all the Spanish speaking parents who only speak Spanish to their children and except the school to teach them English. Maybe it should be a shared effort.

  18. #CAYMANKIND says:

    100 million dollars spent on a high school yet kids don’t have basic skills to get employment. Education is a buzz word used in political campaigns by your elected leaders who have failed at least two generations and bred the system of entitlement.


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