New report reveals an early literacy crisis in Monroe County and outlines solutions to boost reading outcomes 

Jun 29, 2023 | Press Release

NEW YORK – Today, a report by The Education Trust–New York shows that Monroe County is facing an early literacy crisis, driven by a combination of low expectations for students, unstable leadership, and the use of non-evidence-based instructional materials and practices that are ultimately denying students of their right to read. 

The report, A Call to Action: The State of Literacy in Monroe County, shows that less than 40% of Monroe County third graders are reading proficiently and that districts are responding with a slow, but uneven shift toward alignment with the science of reading, an evidence-based approach to teaching reading. The report also shares examples of promising practices from school districts, local universities, and community-based organizations.  

“Rochester and Monroe County are rightly proud of being the home of Frederick Douglass, who famously stated that literacy is a key to freedom,” said Jeff Smink, deputy director of The Education Trust–New York. “Yet 125 years after Douglass’ death, too many students — especially Black, Latinx, and students from low-income backgrounds — are still being denied the right to read, which is a fundamental civil and human right. Local and state leaders have an opportunity and the tools to address the reading crisis and mitigate the devastating consequences for students and the entire community. Parent, elected officials, education, and community leaders must work together to solve this crisis to build the future Monroe County students deserve.” 

While less than 40% of third grade students in Monroe County are proficient in English Language Arts (ELA), according to the 2021-2022 statewide assessment, rates are significantly lower for historically underserved students when compared to their White peers in the third grade — only 22% of Latinx students, 17% of Black students, and 7% of students with disabilities are proficient in reading. County reading outcomes also trail the state average in all student subgroups.  

This report, a subset of The Education Trust–New York’s statewide report on the landscape of early literacy, urges stakeholders in Monroe County — and throughout New York State — to embrace research that shows 95% of all students can learn to read and stop accepting poor reading outcomes as normal, particularly for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.  

Among the findings:  

  • Districts in the county are slowly aligning instruction with the science of reading; however, there is not yet a coherent strategy or approach to reading instruction in many districts. 
  • Several districts, including those that have prioritized the science of reading, have significantly outperformed state and county reading rates for Black, Latinx, and students from low-income backgrounds.  
  • Inadequate teacher preparation is a major obstacle to improved reading outcomes, with most local programs missing critical coursework that prepares educators to use evidence-based instructional materials or methods in the classroom.  
  • There are many opportunities to engage parents, early childhood education providers, and expanded learning organizations in the fight for improved reading outcomes. 

To address the reading crisis, the report shares ten recommendations for local stakeholders to implement with a sense of urgency: 

  1. Invest in strong and sustainable leadership for the Rochester City School District. 
  2. Provide a trained literacy coach for every school.  
  3. Ensure that every school in the county is using evidence-based reading materials. 
  4. Ensure that every elementary school has a coherent literacy plan. 
  5. Align professional learning to high-quality evidence-based learning materials. 
  6. Align teacher preparation programs in Monroe County with the science of reading. 
  7. Institute systems for progress monitoring within and across schools and districts. 
  8. Improve public transparency for parents and taxpayers around reading instruction. 
  9. Meaningfully engage families and caregivers to support their child’s reading skills. 
  10. Partner with community-based organizations to help students catch up on pandemic-related unfinished learning. 

“Now is the time to energize our village to help our children succeed in literacy and in life. It takes all of us to change the narrative,’ said Dr. Seanelle Hawkins, President and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester.“We call on our collective community, individuals and community-based organizations, to rise together and help our students fill in these literacy gaps. Their future, quite literally, depends on us. It is a job we should not, cannot take lightly. Let us demonstrate our love, and dedication, to our youth, by empowering them to read, to learn and to achieve their dreams of a brighter tomorrow.” 

“I am deeply concerned for the children, families, teachers, and community members who don’t know what they don’t know about how our brains learn to read — especially our families from disadvantaged backgrounds and families of color,” said Tina Carney, a Gates-Chili parent and Co-Leader of Dyslexia Allies of Western New York. “Our kids aren’t dumb or lazy; they need explicit instruction from an educator knowledgeable in the science of reading who is partnered with an informed and engaged parent, family member, or guardian.  As Ed Trust–NY’s report indicates, there are several literacy bright spots throughout Monroe County, but unfortunately they are isolated pockets and can vary considerably district-to-district, school-to-school, and even classroom-to-classroom. This is a multiple systems problem that requires a multiple systems solution in addition to individual mindset shifts.  The struggles that students, families, and teachers currently endure will be drastically reduced when we all learn about the science of reading and work together to build a more literate Monroe County.”   

“Parents are learning and growing with their children every day. For me, that means being involved in my children’s education and how they learn to read from day one,” said Candace Cabral, Rochester parent and community leader. “I want my children to see that their dreams and opportunities are in front of them. That’s why I’m involved with so many organizations in Rochester to give my children the best. Ed Trust–NY’s report on early literacy in Monroe County shows what is possible when community-based organizations support children’s reading development through tutoring, afterschool programs, and more. It is my hope that city and district leaders will take this report and make these programs and more early literacy supports accessible to all Rochester parents.” 

Download the report here.