Early on, Colorado distinguished itself as it seized a moment of debate about linking third-grade reading to student promotion/retention to make a fundamental commitment to early identification and intervention for struggling readers. In 2012, the state adopted the READ Act, establishing early literacy as a priority and creating a comprehensive system of supports and timely interventions to ensure that every student can read by the end of third grade. Nearly $35 million per year are being made available to help schools carry out those interventions. The impact has been immediate, with decreases in the number of students with a “significant reading deficiency” (SRD) across the state and among groups considered at high risk. Particularly notable have been the gains among English Language Learners, where the percentage of students with an SRD was reduced from 35 percent to 27 percent in the first year of implementation.
Embodying the “big tent” and “civic engagement” concepts is the organization now leading the Colorado grade-level reading effort, EPIC (Executives Partnering to Invest in Children). With a membership that includes more than 65 business executives, EPIC is a bridge between business and the early childhood community and an advocate for investment in Colorado’s young children and two-generation strategies. The “big tent” also includes a strong partner in Mile High United Way, which won a federal Social Innovation Fund grant that is being used for home visitation, early literacy training for parents and caregivers, small-group and one-on-one literacy support, and summer literacy programs around the state. Mile High United Way also runs the Colorado Reading Corps, a replication of the Minnesota Reading Corps model that provides one-on-one tutoring for K-3 students reading below grade level.
Work is underway to replicate and take to scale another program, as well – Colorado-born Early Learning Ventures (ELV). Founded by the David and Laura Merage Foundation, ELV’s unique online “shared services” approach streamlines business functions and makes managing a financially stable, high-quality business attainable for center- and home-based child care providers. Resulting cost savings can be reinvested to improve the quality of care and education offered to children and their families. ELV currently is serving more than 600 child care businesses in Colorado, impacting more than 40,000 children and returning up to $8 for each dollar invested. Even greater reach is on the horizon, with the recent award of a $3.1 million federal grant to ELV through the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership and through an existing partnership with the state’s Office of Early Childhood that provides assistance to help child care programs access the ELV model as a quality improvement initiative.
Another area in which Colorado stands out is in the public availability of 10 years of disaggregated data. The Colorado Department of Education’s Data Lab can provide reports sorting data on a rich array of elements, among which are: academic year, subject (reading, writing, math), achievement levels, gender, free/reduced-cost meal use, race/ethnicity, grade level, school district and individual school.
Important developments in Colorado communities also bode well for grade-level reading advances:
- Among Denver Mayor Hancock’s Five Goals for Denver Kids are increasing the number of children who have access to high-quality early childhood experiences and increasing the number of Denver third-grade students who can read at grade level. One of the programs addressing the third-grade reading goal is Countdown to Kindergarten that works with parents, preschool directors, teachers and principals to provide children with a seamless transition from preschool to kindergarten.
- Public will to support young children is evident in Denver’s preschool sales tax, originally enacted by referendum and recently reauthorized at an increased level by an even larger margin of voters. The tax has helped expand the number of 4-year-olds in Denver’s Preschool Program from 600 in 2007/2008 to more than 4,800 in 2013-2014. There is interest in future expansion to serve 3-year-olds and to restore summer programming that was eliminated during the last recession.
“Parent engagement” is a key school readiness strategy in Longmont. To meet families’ different needs, the community offers two nationally recognized programs, Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors and Nurturing Parenting. Creative outreach includes recruiting at grocery stores, laundromats and tortillerias, as well as through social service and other agencies. Longmont also has expanded substantially its summer programming.