San Joaquin County Literacy Rate Takes a Plunge


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Originally appeared in The Record, December 15, 2015

By Almendra Carpizo
The Record Staff Writer

Last year, only 27 percent of third-grade students in San Joaquin County had reached grade-level proficiency, a drop from 34 percent the previous year, according to University of the Pacific’s annual San Joaquin Literacy Report Card.

The report, part of Pacific’s Beyond Our Gates Reading by Third initiative, was released Monday.

The lower literacy rate was expected because of the implementation of a new standardized test to track students’ progress, said Jennifer Torres Siders, community relations director for Beyond Our Gates. However, the score is still lower than was hoped for and it is seen as a serious concern.

The results of this year’s report card should serve as a call to action to continue giving children academic support, she said.

According to the report, Stockton Unified School District had the lowest third-grade literacy rate — 16 percent — while Ripon Unified School District had the highest at 43 percent. Statewide, 38 percent of third-graders met the benchmark.

Having third-graders master reading skills is an important indicator for their academic future, as children who cannot read well by the end of the year fall behind, according to the report.

Sociologist Donald Hernandez found that students who did not read proficiently by the end of third grade were four times more likely to leave school without graduating, according to the 2011 report “Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters.”

The goal of Pacific’s literacy report is to track students’ progress and focus attention on areas that are in need, Torres Siders said.

Poverty is among the factors believed to be affecting literacy rates in San Joaquin County, she said. A parent who is not economically stable may not have a job that allows flexibility to be involved in their child’s school, or the time to read with their kids. Unmet health needs and English proficiency can impact a student’s’ success as well, she added.

Using the same five indicators from past report cards, it is known that learning to read doesn’t just happen in a classroom, Torres Siders said. It happens in the community.

The Literacy Report Card, which was launched in 2012, also takes preschool enrollment, truancy rates and the percentage of new mothers without a high school diploma as key factors that influence a child’s educational success.

Jamie Baiocchi, director of early education and support for the San Joaquin County Office of Education, said that although the percentage of students reaching the third-grade reading level is not positive news, it gives the Beyond Our Gates council information on key areas that need to be targeted.

Family engagement at an early age is really important, as well as attendance records, she said.

Last year, the county’s truancy rate, which is defined as three or more unexcused absences, continued its downward trend to 24 percent from 25 percent in 2013. Preschool enrollment and the percentage of new mothers without a high school education also improved.

The collaborative efforts from educators, elected officials, business leaders, nonprofit organizations and health care professional is remarkable and it proves that it takes community involvement to make a difference, Baiocchi said.

“We have a lot of things happening in our county that are so positive,” she said.

Among the initiatives spearheaded by Beyond Our Gates are Books on Buses, which allow children to read while riding RTD buses, Read to Me, Stockton! and Book Buddies.

“The literacy efforts in San Joaquin County are tremendous,” Baiocchi said.

The Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library is also touted as key ally in Beyond Our Gates’ effort to improve student achievement.

Library staff is able to provide training for guardians interested in learning ways to teach their children to read and emphasize the value of literacy, said Suzy Daveluy, deputy director of community services for the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library. Parents can take their child to weekly story times and learn how fun and positive literacy can be.

She said her role is to get out into the community and teach people about services available, but also to learn from people what resources are in need.

Helping children become strong readers doesn’t take a lot of money, Torres Siders said. It’s as simple as playing, reading, talking and singing with “your little ones.”

To view all literacy report cards go online to:

— Contact reporter Almendra Carpizo at (209) 546-8264 or Follow her on Twitter @AlmendraCarpizo.

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