Colorado has some key policies in place to promote early literacy, but a new report indicates the state has a long way to go.
The state ranked 33rd overall in the “From Crawling to Walking” report released Monday by the New America Foundation, a nonprofit research institute.
Colorado’s middle-of-the-road ranking earned it a place in the “toddler” category, which is where 34 other states and Washington, DC also landed. The five states with the highest marks — including Colorado’s neighbor to the southeast, Oklahoma — fell into the “walking” category. Meanwhile, 11 mostly western states with generally weak early literacy policies fell into “crawling” category.
Ensuring that children can read proficiently by the end of third grade is widely seen is a critical stepping stone to future success. Those who can’t—low-income and English language learners, for example—are more likely to repeat a grade and eventually drop out of school.
Among the seven indicators used to rank the states, Colorado ranked near the middle on five. They touch on educator credentials and training; funding; standards, assessment and data; Pre-K access and quality and supports for dual language learners.
On the other two indicators, Colorado was at the front of the pack on one and the back of the pack on the other.
The state did particularly well on the indicator that evaluated third grade reading laws, ranking second in a five-way tie with Texas, Utah, Minnesota and Virginia.
That distinction is due to a signature piece of 2012 legislation called the READ Act. The law, now in its third full year, requires routine reading assessments for students in kindergarten through third-grade, and for those who are struggling, explicit plans to help them improve. The law permits but doesn’t require retention for third-graders who are significantly behind.
Cheryl Caldwell, director of early childhood education for Denver Public Schools, said while there’s extensive assessment under the READ Act, there’s needs to be more emphasis on how to respond to reading delays.
“I think we spend a lot of time looking at data…We need to do more around, so if you get this result, what do you do?” she said.
On the other extreme, Colorado ranked 45th on an indicator measuring full-day kindergarten access and quality. Because of a tie with Idaho, Arizona, Kansas, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the ranking equates to a last-place finish.
Among the kindergarten benchmarks considered on the report are whether states require districts to offer full-day kindergarten, whether they ban tuition-based full-day kindergarten, whether the day length for full-day kindergarten is the same as first grade and whether student teacher ratios are capped at 18 to 1. Colorado fell short on all four criteria.
Bruce Atchison, director of early learning for the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based education research and policy group, said the report is a good one with a solid set of key early literacy indicators.
He said Colorado’s “toddler” classification says the state “has some good things going on, but we still have a ways to go…and I think that’s probably fair.”
The report, which is accompanied by an online mapping instrument, paints a rosier picture of Colorado’s early childhood landscape than did an early childhood ranking released by Education Week in January.
That assessment, part of the publication’s annual Quality Counts report, ranked Colorado 44th in the country for early education. But some local experts believed the report should have considered a broader set of indicators and didn’t accurately represent the true status of some states, including Colorado.
The New America report more closely matches an annual state-by-state ranking of preschool funding and policy put out by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The 2014 version of that report ranked Colorado 22 for four-year-old preschool access and 35 for state preschool spending.