Ogden schools score below average on graduation and third-grade literacy rates

Saturday , May 26, 2018 - 5:00 AM7 comments

OGDEN — Ogden students have lower reading skills and graduate at lower rates than other students in major U.S. cities, according to a newly released online resource. 

The City Health Dashboard, a project by New York University School of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is an online tool that shows data for the 500 largest cities in the country.

Jessica Athens, an assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine, said the data is from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Census Bureau after being submitted by school districts. The data was collected from January 2017 to February 2018.

The dashboard shows that schools that fall within Ogden City limits have a higher absenteeism rate than the 500-city average, while third-grade reading proficiency and graduation rates are also lower than that average.

Ogden schools have an absenteeism rate of 24.6 percent, a higher rate than the 17.1 percent average. The rate is higher for all Ogden students, regardless of race, with white students’ absenteeism rate 5 percent higher than the 500-city average and absenteeism for Hispanic students 9.6 percent higher than the average.

Third-grade reading proficiency is another category where Ogden schools are lagging behind the 500-city average.

According to the dashboard, the 500-city average for third-grade reading proficiency is 46.4 percent. But the third-grade reading proficiency rate at Ogden schools is 37.2 percent. However, five elementary schools — Gramercy, Heritage, James Madison, New Bridge and T.O. Smith — didn’t report their reading proficiency statistics.

Athens said a place with higher absenteeism rates and lower third-grade reading proficiency rates “are not likely to occur by chance.”

“Chronic absenteeism and third-grade reading proficiency are negatively associated, meaning as chronic absenteeism increases (more students are chronically absent), the percent of students who score proficient and above on third grade declines,” Athens said.

Because the data is comparing third graders with graduating students from the same years, Athens can’t confirm there is a correlation between third grade literacy, absenteeism and graduation rates.

The data also shows Ogden’s public school students have a hard time graduating on time.

According to the dashboard, 64.8 percent of public school students in Ogden graduated high school on time, versus the 83.7 percent average across the 500 cities.

Jer Bates, Ogden School District spokesman, said Thursday in an email the district is committed to addressing the third-grade literacy issue.

“Our graduation rates have seen a significant increase since 2016,” Bates said. “In order to continue and sustain that improvement at the high school level, we must improve literacy for our youngest students.”

As part of the district’s effort to improve literacy, Bates said the school board recently approved funding for an English Language Arts curriculum to be implemented next school year. The district is also expanding a training program with teachers to help them recognize factors contributing to illiteracy. 

Bates said reducing absenteeism is a priority for the school district. 

“We have had school employees going far above and beyond expectations in their commitment to individual students who need additional support to make it to school every day,” Bates said. “We will continue to work backward, trying to correct chronic absenteeism at an even younger age and to prevent the problem before it starts.”

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Layton, on the other hand, had higher high school graduation and third-grade reading proficiency rates than the 500-city average.

Layton schools had a 13.2 percent absenteeism rate, a 93.5 percent graduation rate and a 55.6 percent third-grade reading proficiency rate, all numbers better than the average.

Mike Cena, professor of elementary education at Weber State University, said the data shows how third-grade reading proficiency is key to a student’s success.

According to a January 2018 report by the Utah State Board of Education, 73 percent of third-grade students in the state achieved reading competency in 2017. That number is less than the 75 percent achieved in 2016. It is important to note that the number is out of third-grade students who attended school for 160 days or more.

That third-grade reading proficiency percentage can be affected by many factors such as mobility, income and lack of access to books, Cena said.

“What we know from typically large urban school districts where there is high absenteeism, and where there is a sense of academic achievement being not where we wanted it to be, (is that) it takes a lot of time, a lot of intervention,” Cena said. “The school has to be seen by the community as more than just a school.”

Cena said some types of interventions include having members of the community and business leaders contribute to the school by donating time and money to help the students and the teachers.

Schools, Cena said, need to be more intentional in their efforts to improve literacy. Students who do not hit the third-grade literacy benchmark still have a chance to improve, as long as they have the support needed through the school, the community and the household.

“We have to make literacy a priority, we have to use the F-word — Funding,” Cena said. “It’s never too late to have a student who struggles with literacy make great gains.”

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at smartinezbeltran@standard.net or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

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