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LA School Superintendent Held to New Standard

June 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES - The superintendent of the Los Angeles School District is being graded in a new way. John Deasy's contract states that his performance on the job will be measured by third-grade reading skills.

Deasy is the first superintendent to be held to that standard, which is increasingly being viewed as a key measure of school improvement.

Ralph Smith, executive vice president of The Annie E. Casey Foundation - which is a partner in a grade-level reading campaign - says he hopes more schools follow suit and focus on third-grade reading skills as an educational quality marker.

"What we know is that 74 percent of children who fail to reach this benchmark will never catch up and are on a pathway to dropping out of high school."

Most children not reading at grade level come from low-income households, Smith says, and can become trapped in a cycle of poverty when they don't graduate from high school.

Smith, who spoke Tuesday at a town hall meeting, says it's not only schools that bear the responsibility of making sure students are reading on track. Communities and businesses also have to step up, he says, to make sure children are ready to learn when they get to kindergarten, to encourage regular school attendance, and to provide literacy programs during the summer.

"Make sure that every kid, and especially those kids whose parents can't afford to send them to summer camp, has an opportunity to learn over the summer and at least to hold ground, if not gain ground."

Another example of the third-grade reading standard gaining ground can be seen in Sacramento, Smith says. That city has a 10-year plan to get every child reading proficiently by third grade. Right now, only 33 percent of students meet that goal.

Links to studies about third-grade reading benchmarks are online at gradelevelreading.net.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - CA