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Two weeks ago we learned that nearly 73% of Newark School District’s third through eighth graders aren’t reading on grade level. Now Tapinto has followed up with a comparison of third grade reading proficiency levels between students who attend Newark district schools and those who attend the city’s public charter sector.
All but one of Newark’s 13 charter schools had higher third grade reading rates than the Newark district’s 19% third grade reading rate, though some not by much, according to the analysis of the data. All together, 40% of Newark’s charter third graders passed the New Jersey state reading exam last year, the analysis shows.
Now, not each charter school has the same level of success in teaching students how to read. But for schools like Gray Charter School and North Star Academy, a reading instruction program that incorporates the science of literacy—a data-driven approach that emphasizes phonics—is making a huge difference. While 73% of third-graders who attend the district schools can’t read at grade level (a benchmark for future academic success and college completion), 77% of Gray Charter students are reading at grade level. At North Star it’s 60%, according to last spring’s state standardized tests. And that’s after two pandemic-interrupted years of school, a remarkable learning recovery.
“Our school leaders have immersed themselves in the science of reading and are ensuring our students receive targeted instruction that matches the research on how students best learn to read,” said Juliana Worrell, chief academic officer K-8 for Uncommon Schools, of which North Star is a part. “That coupled with targeted, small group instruction (tutoring) built into the school day has allowed us to accelerate learning and get a large number of students to proficiency.”
The only public charter that didn’t best Newark district schools was Marion P. Thomas, which has had to completely rewrite its curricula since it broke with BRICK Education Network. The school has also had difficulty getting students to attend tutoring, a problem many schools share, and has partnered with Teach for America to provide one-on-one tutoring for all students during the school year and the summer.
It is unclear if Newark Public Schools District employs the science of reading into literacy instruction. Its curriculum guide defines literacy this way:
Inherent in the goals and practices of the Office of Language Arts Literacy are four assumptions about literacy learning:
- First, literacy learning is an active process for constructing meaning through the use of prior knowledge and understanding.
- Second, literacy develops in a social context; the use of language almost always relates to others.
- Third, literacy ability increases in complexity if language is used in increasingly complex ways. Literacy learners must engage in texts and conversations that are rich in ideas and increasingly complex in the patterns of language they display.
- Finally, learners achieve mastery of language arts literacy not by adding skills one-by-one to their repertoire, but rather by using and exploring language in its many dimensions.
There is no mention of the direct phonemic instruction, the most important piece of teaching students to read.
One other note: the chart below, courtesy of Tapinto, shows the percentage of third-grade charter students who reached proficiency in reading. Students who attended University Heights Charter School outperformed Newark district students but last June Acting Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan abruptly closed the school, well after the deadline for its 600 students to find other slots and after 400 of them were ready to begin the school’s free summer enrichment programs. When contacted, Allen-McMillan’s spokesperson state regulations give the Education Commissioner permission to revoke charters “at any time.”
Percent of Third Graders in Newark Charter Schools Who Passed the Last State Reading Exam
|School||% Proficient||Third Graders||Proficient|
|Gray Charter School||76.90%||39||30|
|North Star Academy||60.30%||545||329|
|Maria L. Varisco-Rogers||54.80%||62||34|
|Robert Treat Academy||50.00%||78||39|
|Achieve Community Charter School||37.80%||53||20|
|Great Oaks Legacy||30.90%||149||46|
|Newark Educators Community Charter School||23.30%||43||10|
|New Horizons Community Charter School||22.70%||53||12|
|Roseville Community Charter School||22.00%||50||11|
|Marion P. Thomas||12.20%||90||11|