Published On: Sun, Aug 25th, 2019

Reading Proficiency Critical to Academic Success

By: Robert S Weinroth

Reading is a crucial academic skill, serving as the foundation for learning. Until third grade, children are learning to read. After third grade, children read to learn. Without a strong foundation in reading, children quickly fall behind just as their learning begins and, left unaddressed, these students will lag behind, year after year since most of the elementary curriculum is taught by reading. Measuring how many children are reading at grade level by the end of third grade is a strong indicator of their ultimate academic success. Three quarters of the “struggling readers” at the end of third grade will never catch up to their peers.

One key predictor of a child’s prospect of graduating from high school is reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Beyond the classroom, 85 percent of juveniles who interact with the court system are functionally illiterate (60 percent of the nation’s inmates are illiterate). Literacy has a direct correlation with a person’s future success or, alternatively, the likelihood a child will ultimately interact with the criminal justice system.

With so much riding on reading proficiency, in 2016, Palm Beach County public schools launched a program to raise student’s reading performance. While reading proficiency has shown modest improvements during the past 3 years, the district is not improving at a pace that will allow it to meet its stated goals by the end of the 2020-21 school year, its self-imposed deadline.

By the end of the 2018-19 school year, only 54 percent of the third graders in Palm Beach County were reading a grade level. This amounts to an increase of just two points over the base year (2015-16). At the same time, Miami-Dade had increased six points and Broward had increased five points attaining to reach 60 percent attaining the desired reading proficiency. The objective was to raise the score to 75 percent for the children completing third grade in 2021. While the gains have not met expectations, a second metric for measuring academic success (high school graduation rates) has seen significant improvement. 

In Palm Beach County, the high school graduation rate in June 2015 was 85 percent. The class of 2018 enjoyed a 92 percent graduation rate. This compares quite favorably with the state rates of high school graduation (increasing from 78 percent to 86 percent during the same period). The goal for this metric was set at 90 percent. In other words, barring a setback, this goal has been exceeded.

The PBC School Superintendent, Donald Fennoy views the unmet goal as a “North Star for the district,” allowing it to align resources around the ultimate objective of literacy for all students. Dr Fennoy has promised to seek out community input to facilitate the development of a future strategy to address literacy, which will continue to be a top priority for the school district.

While the graduation rate can be viewed as a bright spot for the school district (with the rate historically exceeding the state’s), post graduate success has been an issue of concern. The District established a goal of increasing the percentage of high school graduates who earn at least one college credit or receive an industry certification, from 67 percent to 75 percent. However, last year the District could only muster a one-point increase to 68 percent. As the number of “struggling” students successfully graduating has increased, the ratio of graduates with college credits or industry certifications has remained virtually flat, even as the number of qualifying students’ increases.

Palm Beach County can take pride in its A-rated schools. It is now critically important for us to remain focused on literacy and high school readiness to provide our children with the necessary educational foundation to be successful in the future.

About the Author

- Robert Weinroth is a 27 year resident of Boca Raton where he is an attorney, businessman, former member of the City Council (where he served for four years) and currently serves as an elected member of the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners. Commissioner Weinroth went to Boston’s Northeastern University where he earned a BSBA in Management. He went on to earn his Juris Doctor at New England School of Law. He is admitted to practice law in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and the Supreme Court of the United States. Weinroth served as president and general counsel of Freedom Medical Services Inc, an accredited medical supply company in Boca Raton. FREEDOMED® represented the realization of an entrepreneurial dream. Weinroth, and his wife Pamela operated the company for 16 years, eventually selling the business in 2016. Weinroth takes great pride in his past work as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for the 15th Judicial Circuit, advocating for the needs of abused and neglected children deemed dependent by the Court. After serving on multiple community boards and committees, Weinroth was elected to the Boca Raton City Council in 2014. During his tenure, he served as CRA Vice-chair and Deputy Mayor and was appointed to a number of county boards including the Boca Raton Airport Authority, the Palm Tran Service Board, the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency, the Treasure Coast Planning Council and was elected a board member of the Palm Beach County League of Cities. As a newly elected County Commissioner, Weinroth has been appointed Vice-Chair of the Solid Waste Authority, a board member of the PBC Transportation Planning Agency, and alternate representative on the Treasure Coast Planning Agency and several other county and regional boards. Robert, Pamela and their two dogs, Sierra and Siggy, are proud to call Boca Raton home.

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