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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Literacy program aims to bridge the gap in reading comprehension in grades K-3


From left, secretary of Education Eliezer Ramos Parés; Paola Guerrero, Carlos Rodríguez Silvestre y Nell Duke.

By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar

alejandra.jover@gmail.com


Since 2017, Puerto Rico has faced challenges regarding children’s education. They saw their studies interrupted by Hurricanes Irma and María and then, in 2019, by the earthquakes that devastated the island’s southern area.


The coup de grace for early education was the pandemic, which has already disrupted how children study for two years. According to a report published yesterday in the New York Times, it caused a 20-year delay in what had been advanced in terms of reading comprehension and mathematics.


Puerto Rico is no stranger to this reality. Children from kindergarten through third grade face substantial reading challenges, which impact their future development at other academic levels.


Ramos Parés recalled that, in the wake of the pandemic, students who were receiving online education and were due to move to first grade jumped from kindergartner directly to second grade without having the necessary literacy skills (as reflected in data collected for the 2020-2021 school year). More than half of third graders were not proficient in the skills corresponding to their academic year.


Even more worrisome, between 2017 and 2019, the proportion of students who did not master Spanish rose from 51.2% to 54.9%, which could be directly related to Hurricane María.


To alleviate this debacle, a coalition led by the Flamboyán Foundation and joined by dozens of private, non-profit organizations and the Department of Education launched the “Let’s read, everybody!” (“¡Todos a leer!”, in Spanish) initiative, which focuses on three essential elements: the role of different sectors in the reading development of children; a series of public policy recommendations to be implemented to create the conditions to promote literacy in public schools; and a theoretical framework of essential practices for teaching this skill.


Carlos Rodríguez Silvestre, executive director of Flamboyán Foundation, said, “we must take immediate action and address the needs of our students with urgency. Not doing so is to jeopardize our children’s potential and future. The Flamboyan Foundation, as part of its educational mission, has worked for years to research and share findings on K-3 reading. This document, the fruit of all this effort, is a roadmap that links multi-sector collaboration with the proposed public policy changes that must be implemented to ensure effective instructional practices and success.”


“We know the importance of establishing reading, reading comprehension, and literacy habits from the primary grades for the optimal educational and social development of students,” said Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés in a written statement. “With this in mind, we want to join efforts aimed at curbing learning gaps in the area of reading. Achieving this goal requires a multi-sector effort at the Puerto Rico level. We are confident that this joint effort by the organizations and the Department will result in a solid foundation for the academic success of our students.”


The program is the result of a 10-year study and investigation with the assistance of early-childhood alphabetization experts such as Dr. Nell Duke from the School of Education of the University of Michigan; Dr. Ángeles Molina Iturrondo from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus, and Paola Guerrero Rosada, a doctorate candidate on Education and Psychology from the University of Michigan.


The program provides a multisectoral approach involving children, their families, professional organizations, government agencies, and educators, among others, and the role they could play in developing competent future literacy learners. Likewise, it suggests concrete actions to support the goal of children becoming proficient readers by the end of the third grade of elementary school.


Among its recommendations to align public policy with best practices, the Coalition seeks to modify elementary teacher certification regulations to require literacy training and to train educators at all levels in essential literacy teaching practices. It also aims to restructure the current curriculum, implement tests to measure the strategy’s success and create a comprehensive assessment system to report students’ literacy skills.


At the community level, they seek to establish alliances between the Office for the Integration of the Family and Community (OIFC, for its Spanish acronym) and non-profit entities to launch a massive reading campaign in the community.


To learn more about the campaign, visit todosaleer.org.

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