This week the Louisiana Department of Education released the annual Fall 2022 Reading Report, which is a summary of the results of reading screeners for public school students enrolled in kindergarten through third grade. Louisiana state law mandates administration of the screener in the first 30 days of each school year and public reporting of results.

The screenings show that the overall percentage of students at or above grade level in grades K-3 reading is currently 49.6 percent, still below the 2019 pre-COVID-19 pandemic rate of 51.5 percent, although it grew from the 2021 rate of 49.2 percent. Grade level results are as follows:

Department officials cautioned that these particular scores are not necessarily the best indicators of reading proficiency, as results are based on screeners, are manually scored and results submitted by teachers, represent results of four different approved screening instruments used statewide, and lack inter-rater reliability. Still, the state’s education agency noted that its comprehensive literacy plan is “building momentum across the state, and we are beginning to see the impact of this foundational shift in how we teach children to read.”

For several years, the state has been working to improve the teaching of reading, training new and veteran educators in the science of reading, upgrading curriculum and other instructional materials, providing guidance and resources to families, and offering supplemental tutoring and supports. The Louisiana Legislature passed and the Department recently announced the launch of the Steve Carter Literacy Tutoring Program, which is giving thousands of families access to high-quality tutoring services for their children in grades K-5 who are struggling to read. The program is being funded with $40 million in one-time federal COVID-19 recovery money and will require another source of funding if lawmakers and state education board members deem it effective and worth continuing.

In October, the U.S. Department of Education released the 2022 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which measures fourth and eighth grade students’ achievement in reading and math in individual states. The assessment showed that just 28 percent of Louisiana fourth graders are at or above proficiency. Fourth grade reading scores were up slightly (just over two points) from the last results in 2019, which was better improvement than other states had experienced, but were found not to be statistically different than 2019 scores. In other words, national testing experts found the results to be flat as compared to the last time students took the test.

Louisiana desperately needs the newly implemented strategies to work and produce big improvements. It’s going to require a sustained, multi-faceted approach to strengthen the quality of instruction and interventions within schools and expand innovative options for families to access high-quality schooling and supplemental supports. Members of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Louisiana Legislature should actively monitor and look for ways to accelerate progress. BESE’s periodic review of key performance indicators is a good start, but more can be done. We need better tracking methods, the ability to fast-track teachers’ training, and to increase student access to high-dosage tutoring.

We can’t expect to increase our state’s educational outcomes in the long term if we fail to equip learners with critical, foundational reading skills that are needed to begin and successfully complete their educational journey. Louisiana must get this moving in the right direction, big time and ASAP.