Public Schools Are Failing 8th Graders—But CDF Freedom Schools Can Help

November 8, 2019 | National

Last week, the National Assessment Governing Board released the results of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as The Nation’s Report Card. The results were disappointing almost across the board, and they notably showed that the average score for 8th grade reading dropped nationwide by an average of four points. This is particularly troubling given that NAEP scores “rarely change more than a point or two” in the two years between assessments, according to Matthew M. Chingos of the Urban Institute.

Over the last decade, the reading performance of the lowest-performing students has suffered the most, with the score for 4th grade reading falling seven points and 8th grade reading dropping six points. Peggy Carr from the National Center for Education Statistics says “The students who are struggling the most in reading are where they were almost 30 years ago.”

While these results were not surprising to those who are watching, we should all be concerned. Education has long been considered a tool of upward mobility for children born into poverty, but we know that as poor children and children of color increasingly lack access to quality early childhood programs, they are often entering school already behind their peers from more affluent communities.

These results remind us that the gap only continues to grow as the students get older: 81% of lower-income 8th graders were reading below grade level, compared to 54% of higher-income 8th graders. We must take notice when the percent of lower-income 8th graders performing below grade level is 1.5 times that of their higher-income peers.

Fixing our education system should be a national priority. We must get to a point where every student enrolled in public school has equitable access to high-quality teachers and programming, in well-funded and diverse schools. However, we also know that progress on this front has been painfully slow. That is one of the driving reasons why we run CDF Freedom Schools® for more than 12,000 children every year.

These summer and after-school programs focus on proven, effective culturally relevant literacy instruction. Children from poor families tend to lose an average of two or more months of reading skills each summer—this is known as the “summer slide.” But many of the K-12 “scholars” at CDF Freedom Schools avoid those losses, with an average improvement of 9 months of reading skills over the course of the 6 week program. Our middle school scholars actually saw the greatest improvement, with an average gain of 13.8 months of reading skills last summer. More than eighty percent of the children served at CDF Freedom Schools are from low-income families, and yet only 15% of all scholars experienced summer reading loss in 2018. The other 85% were actively making up that gap that we see in reading proficiency.

This year’s Nation’s Report Card certainly drives home the point that policy solutions are necessary to solve our biggest public education woes. But there are steps that can be taken today to improve learning outcomes for children nation-wide. We are proud of the gains we see at CDF Freedom Schools, and will continue to bring the successful model to the communities that need it most.

Learn more about CDF Freedom Schools and find a site in your community here.