Read On Arizona and partners provide youth reading education to support fight pandemic literacy loss

Nonprofit organizations Read On Arizona and Read On Tempe work in conjunction with partners to improve child literacy as third grade test scores show pandemic literacy loss. (File photo by Keerthi Vedantam/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Child literacy is at the forefront for many Arizona educators, as English Language Arts and reading comprehension prepare students for adulthood and future careers.

However, recent research suggests that third grade students struggle with reading comprehension. According to the Center for the Future of Arizona’s education progress meter, which collects and analyzes data from the Arizona Department of Education, just 41% of Arizona third graders scored “proficient” or “highly proficient” across state assessment tests in 2023. That was 5 percentage points lower than pre-COVID-19 numbers and far short of the goal of 72% of third graders getting a passing grade in reading by 2030 that Arizona school districts are aiming for.

Organizations like Read On Arizona focus on reading development for children of all ages. Terri Clark is the Arizona literacy director for the organization, and she explained the mission.

“Read On is a collaborative that is really focused on helping everyone – programs, schools, families that are all interested in improving early literacy outcomes – and making sure all kids reach their full reading potential. We partner with a number of entities – schools, but also community organizations – that are working on summer learning or out-of-school-time learning,” Clark said.

“We have a strategic focus on improving school readiness – so focusing on those early years, making sure that kids get the opportunities and early learning experiences that are going to set them up well for entering kindergarten – and then, what happens in those K-to-third-grade years so that they are identified early if they need any special interventions,” Clark said. “We’ve identified partners across the state that are doing their part, but no one partner can do it all is our thinking.”

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Read On has partnerships with multiple cities, including Phoenix and Tempe, and has “Read On Communities” that work with local organizations in these cities, among others. Read On also partners with other organizations, one of which is the AARP Foundation Experience Corps.

Nicole Burner, the supervisor in the Tempe’s Office of Education, Career, & Family Services, is also a community lead for Read On Tempe. She explained how the group creates a support network that brings together multiple literacy-focused programs in the community.
These include the Triple P Positive Parenting Program, which helps parents establish good reading habits with their children; the Tempe PRE preschool program and the city’s Helping Us Grow book club, which provided 5,000 books to more than 1,000 children in Tempe in the last year; and the AARP Foundation program, which coordinates volunteer tutors.

“All together, the four programs provide a continuum of support … helping students with their families, with their parents’ support from the jump,” Burner said. “So, we either provide resources with books or parenting classes to help guide them on how to utilize, say, just 30 minutes of their time or manage behaviors or how to pick up a book and read it.”

Burner said that Read On Tempe works with school districts, which refer students who score below the reading benchmark at the beginning of the school year.

Going forward, Burner hopes that continued community-wide collaboration spells positive results for children.

Burner said the HUG program is especially impactful for low-income communities as it provides literacy kits and books for families because “if you only have a few dollars, you’re not going to buy a book. You’re going to buy food or something that’s a necessity.”

“We thought it would be really nice to start them from the beginning. Give them books or give them alphabet magnets, … basically (for them) to know that they’re supported,” Burner said.

John Sanders(he/him/his)
News Reporter, Phoenix

John Sanders expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Sanders has written stories for The State Press and Downtown Devil. He will intern with Times Media Group in spring 2024.