Increase in number of young Denver students reading at grade level, though fewer than pre-pandemic

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Denver Public Schools has seen an improvement in the number of kindergarten through third grade students reading at grade level after transitioning to a science-based reading curriculum. The district is now implementing a new intervention program to assist struggling learners.

Although the latest test scores indicate progress, they still fall short of pre-pandemic levels. The district recognizes the impact of the pandemic on students of all ages, including those who were not yet enrolled when the outbreak occurred.

A press release from DPS reveals that 61% of kindergarten through third graders were reading at or above grade level in the spring of 2024, up from 58% in 2023. Despite this improvement, the current percentage remains seven points lower than the pre-pandemic level of 68%.

The disparities in early literacy performance between white students and Black or Hispanic students have been a persistent challenge for DPS. However, detailed breakdowns by race for the latest literacy test scores were not provided.

Adoption of New Curriculum

In response to declining early literacy metrics during the pandemic, DPS implemented Core Knowledge Language Arts in kindergarten through second grade in the 2022-23 academic year. This decision followed a mandate requiring scientifically proven reading programs in public schools.

The district’s previous curriculum was criticized for deviating from established reading science principles, leading to the adoption of a more structured approach emphasizing phonics and background knowledge in the new program.

Core Knowledge Language Arts was also introduced in third grade in the previous school year, with plans to extend it to fourth and fifth grades this fall. To address the needs of English language learners, a Spanish reading curriculum called Caminos was introduced concurrently.

Training for teachers on effective assessment techniques and targeted interventions has been instrumental in improving student outcomes. The focus is on identifying specific reading challenges and providing tailored instruction to address them.

Challenges in Reading Proficiency

Despite progress in boosting grade-level reading, a concerning trend emerged with a rise in the number of students significantly below proficiency levels during the pandemic. Beginning in 2022, the percentage of K-3 students reading well below grade level increased and has persisted since.

To support struggling readers, DPS is rolling out an intervention curriculum called Really Great Reading, emphasizing teacher-led approaches for immediate feedback and correction. A similar initiative, Esperanza, is being introduced for Spanish-speaking students.

Changes in testing methods and increased academic support, funded by COVID relief and state grants, aim to address learning gaps and enhance student performance. However, assessing the effectiveness of these interventions remains a work in progress.

Melanie Asmar

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