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Teaching a child in Hillsborough to read | Editorial

The school district needs to show a greater sense of urgency.
Aaron Corrales, 10, left, talks with his fifth-grade teacher Jessica Morgan about the book Esperanza Rising as part of the class curriculum at Forest Hill Elementary School in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 19, 2019. Forest Hills Elementary School is taking part in a new pilot program with materials and curriculum designed by Harvard University to help students improve their reading and writing skills. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Oct. 11

Hillsborough County School District students fail at reading for a host of reasons, including factors far beyond the school district’s control. But a new consultant’s report reflects the scope of the problem, and the school district’s response must be equally broad.

The district contracted with Boston-based Public Consulting Group to examine the strengths and weaknesses of its K-5 literacy program. The move came in response to lagging scores in reading that have prompted the district to take a variety of steps to turn its performance around. The consultants found that reading scores in grades three through five have been sub-par over the past three years compared with students across the state. Half the students "are likely to require substantial or additional support to achieve proficiency in the next grade,” the consultants wrote in a report this month. Among the reasons so many fail: Teacher vacancies, poor reading materials and hardships at home.

The findings are not really new, quantifying in dry language what the Tampa Bay Times’ Marlene Sokol has chronicled for months. But they underscore the work the district faces in giving these students the essential skills to succeed. That will be especially challenging for poor, minority and learning disabled students. The proficiency rate in reading for black students is about half that of their white counterparts.

The recommendations run the gamut, but they all involve sustained effort and higher expectations. It is critical that the search for a successor to superintendent Jeff Eakins, who retires next year, not push this initiative to the back-burner.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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