Richard Ruelas: New reading standards will take effect this year in Arizona. Move on when reading will require third grade students to score better than the falls far below category in reading or be retained. Arizona State University researcher Carol Connor last month unveiled findings from a three-year study of several hundred students indicating children need customized, sustained reading instruction from first through third grade to become capable readers. She joins me now to discuss her findings. I read that carefully knowing I was being watched by an expert.
Carol Connor: Thank you so much for having me.
Richard Ruelas: Move on when reading, I know you studied how students learn. But let's talk about that requirement. It seems like getting kids above meets far below or whatever that standard was shouldn't be that hard of a bridge, but do we have third graders who just can't read?
Carol Connor: We do. We do. It's not just Arizona's problem. If you look at the national assessment of educational progress, the U.S. across nation only 58% of children actually are reading at or above basic levels. That's in Arizona. It's 66 nationwide.
Richard Ruelas: We're doing a little better than nationwide?
Carol Connor: No, a little worse. I reversed that. I'm sorry. Yes, 66 nationwide, 58% in Arizona. So we do potentially have a lot of third graders that will need to be retained.
Richard Ruelas: Is third grade sort of a magic number? Magic grade year?
Carol Connor: It is. It's actually a good one to choose. There's excellent research that shows that children who aren't reading at grade level by the end of third grade are more likely to become teen parents, more likely to go to jail, referred for special Ed, drop out of high school, and so it's important that children are reading proficiently or at least basic levels by third grade if they are going to go on and be career ready. Certainly if they are going to be college ready.
Richard Ruelas: Is there something in the cognitive growth in brain development of kids that makes third grade a special time?
Carol Connor: It's a combination of things. Yes, you're right, cognitively children are developing the capacity to take these very abstract symbols and at attach meaning to them. They get increasingly better at doing that starting in kindergarten and moving forward through third grade. Also has a lot to do with how we teach children. First grade, second grade we know we have to teach them how to read. Third grade they are reading to learn where they are expected to use reading as a tool to understand what it is, so they have to understand well enough to learn what they are reading. This is an important transition. It usually happens for most kids in third grade. Certainly by fourth grade.
Richard Ruelas: I think a lot of the people who have gotten into reading research, we know if phonics and whole language but your research says we're missing the ball, that it's not one or the other, it's for each individual student we have to find the best thing that works. That sounds like a really tall order.
Carol Connor: It is, but teachers can do it we just finished a study in Florida that you mentioned where we conducted a randomized control trial. Which is really important in education. It's going to figure out what works. We recruited first graders and their teachers and randomly assigned them to individualized reading instruction or to math intervention, then we followed the first graders into second grade and recruited their teachers, re-randommized reading or math, did the same. So children could be in the reading intervention all year or they could be in the math intervention all three years, or they could have some combination. It was really clear, the children who had the individualized reading first, second and third grades were reading much better and on average almost a fifth grade level. These were children about half of them qualified for subsidized lunch, so we're not talking about easy children to teach. If we look, if we think about the needs in Arizona's performance, 94% of the children who got differentiated reading instruction all three years were reading at or above basic levels by third grade.
Ricahrd Ruelas: Is it possible to get what they need to them? You said there's a computer program you're working on.
Carol Connor: There's a computer program that we developed back in 2004. We used with our first set of teachers back in Florida. We have now run eight different randomized controlled trials from kindergarten through third grade. We discovered that it's not as simple to differentiate instruction as everybody thinks. That it's the children's vocabulary --
Richard Ruelas: There's a lot of moving parts. The lawmakers arguing took some of our time, but it's doable.
Carol Connor: It's doable. What the software does is uses algorithms and kids' test scores to recommend reading instruction for every kid in the class. That seems to be what makes the difference is this differentiated reading instruction.
Richard Ruelas: Let's hope it goes. I appreciate it thank you for joining us. That's all we have time for tonight on "Arizona Horizon." We'll see you tomorrow night.