Reading Growth Changes Grade Levels & Lives

Like far too many students across our city, Terrence (not his real name) never fully learned how to read in elementary school.

Understanding Terrence’s story is essential to understanding the conversation about school choice, for it is families of kids like Terrence who are increasingly looking for options beyond their neighborhood public school.

Here’s Terrence’s Story…

Born premature at 32 weeks, Terrence is like many children in Memphis. With 13.7% of all births preterm, Memphis ranks second in the nation.

Terrence began receiving speech-language therapy at 2 years of age and began receiving preschool special education services at age 3. He continued to receive special education services in elementary school.

The early intervention seemed to have helped, as Terrence was reading at a 1.3 grade level midway through his 2nd grade year. Yet, when Terrence entered 6th grade, he was reading on just a 1.8 grade level.

Let that sink in: Over the final 3.5 years of elementary school, Terrence only grew 0.5 years in reading.

Now, you could be thinking that, since Terrence received special education services, maybe that’s why he stopped growing.

But the data would prove you wrong: In just 18 months of middle school, Terrence has grown over 5 years in reading!

Whereas he grew a mere 0.5 years over his past 42 months of elementary school, Terrence has grown over 5 years in reading in his first 18 months of middle school!

Entering middle school at a 1.8 grade level, Terrence quickly grew to a 2.75 grade level by Fall Break. By Winter Break he was up to a 3.5 grade level. By Spring Break he was up to a 4.0 grade level. And by the end of 6th grade, he was reading at a 5.0 grade level. Terrence then continued to grow over the summer, returning to 7th grade reading at a 5.67 level. By Fall Break, he was up to a 6.5 grade level. And by Winter Break, Terrence was reading at a 7th grade level – on grade level for the first time in his life.

Despite entering middle school reading over four years behind grade level, Terrence has caught all the way up and is now poised to enter high school ahead.

School Choice

Kids like Terrence are the reason school choice is so important.

Terrence’s family did not initially seek out a public charter school. In fact, he attended his neighborhood school for eight years.

But his neighborhood school failed him.

Kids like Terrence can learn. But, we must give them the opportunity to do so.

And this is why school choice is essential.

Public charter schools in Memphis are closing the achievement gap. According to the 2015 Urban Charter School Study, from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, students attending Memphis charter schools gained the equivalence of 94 extra days of math instruction and 115 extra days of reading instruction, compared to similar students at traditional public schools.

These aren’t just abstract numbers. The extra learning reflected in the CREDO study represents real opportunity for kids like Terrence. It’s no exaggeration to say that his life trajectory has been fundamentally changed.

Just imagine what the future of Memphis could hold with more success stories that Terrence’s.


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