Early education is critical to closing the achievement gap

(Margie Gillis is president of Literacy How Inc.)

The recent series of articles on Connecticut's achievement gap are timely and do a good job of describing the problem at hand.  While the series points to the need for early intervention, it neglects two critical aspects of addressing this issue-the need to recognize and respond to children with reading disabilities (otherwise known as dyslexia) and the need for early intervention in prekindergarten (PreK) rather than merely in the early elementary grades.

Genuine early interventions can occur with 3 and 4 year olds and are being piloted in our state. Literacy How Inc., funded by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, is conducting one such model in New Britain and Hartford.

This pilot includes embedded professional development in which teachers attend workshops followed by coaching in the classroom.  In order to target children who are at risk of reading failure, teachers are using handheld devices that provide immediate data to determine which students are in need of intervention. Mentors show teachers how to analyze the information collected and intervene early so that students enter Kindergarten with necessary preliteracy skills.

PreK intervention ensures that these children enter Kindergarten on a level playing field. We are hopeful that this can become a model not only for Connecticut, but also for other cities and states trying to get a jump start in addressing reading difficulties, and the quest for improved academic performance across all zip codes.

Reaching children early is particularly important for the 10 percent or more of all kids in America who have dyslexia and other specific learning abilities. With early screening and interventions in place we can recognize and respond to those children who have specific learning disabilities.

We can add to the arguments (and content) that support universal access to high quality PreK in Connecticut.  And we can begin now to institute a blueprint for making Connecticut's classrooms fit for all learners, especially those children who are at risk for dyslexia.

Literacy How and a long list of organizations advocating on behalf of children (and adults) with dyslexia are introducing recommendations to Governor Malloy and the legislature and are glad the CT Mirror stories have shone a spotlight on reducing the achievement gap. There is a need for laser-like focus on helping children with dyslexia. Lets put what we know into action in the Nutmeg state.

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