Nearly half of young black, low-income Austin students read below grade level


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District has major work to do this year when it comes to teaching students how to read.

A new district scorecard laying out goals for the next four school years says last school year only 52 percent of African-American students in kindergarten through second grade were reading at or above grade level.

Only 62 percent of Hispanic students were where they needed to be, and when it comes to economically disadvantaged children, only 58 percent were hitting the mark.

AISD has a literacy plan, but they also lean on outside partners like BookSpring to provide high-risk students with extra reading support over the summer and during the school day.

Tuesday, BookSpring’s executive director Emily Ball Cicchini and her team were at their headquarters behind Blanton Elementary School getting books organized and ready to put in the hands of Austin children who need them the most.

Cicchini said they’ve started a new zip code effort which involves concentrating on the zip codes with the highest number of families living at and below the poverty line.

Their goal is to make sure children have at least 20 books at home to read, and they also dispatch volunteers to schools, clinics and child care centers across the city to read with children.

“Reading is super, super important from birth to age five,” said Cicchini. She says there’s a reason children from low-income families along with African-American and Hispanic students struggle with literacy.

“It’s that their parents didn’t have books when they were growing up so there isn’t a cultural expectation of it,” said Cicchini. “It’s money — ‘I don’t have enough money. I have to spend it on food, I can’t spend it on books.'”

BookSpring is one of several programs and nonprofits that partner with Austin to assist with literacy.

According to the district’s literacy plan, students needing extra support receive interventions and work with certified academic language therapists on their campuses.

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