Child literacy declined by 29% over a decade, says N.B. child and youth advocate
59% of Grade 2 students met the standard for reading this year
New Brunswick Child and Youth advocate Kelly Lamrock is urging change in the school system following his new report that shows a 29 per cent decline in child literacy over 10 years.
His report, titled Three Challenges, shows the rate of Grade 2 students who met the standard for reading has declined from nearly 84 per cent in 2009-2010 to 59 per cent in 2021-2022 within anglophone schools.
Francophone students saw a decline from 77 per cent in 2009-2010 to 61 per cent in 2021-2022.
Lamrock said the decline has come full circle from 2003 when literacy rates dropped to 59 per cent, sparking a focus on literacy in the education system.
"I suspect, just like it took 10 years of doing a lot of little things right, it took 10 years of a lot of little things going wrong," Lamrock said.
He said many small factors, including the pandemic, are likely behind this decline.
Lamrock said there has been an increase in the number of children with diagnosed learning exceptionalities, from 27 per cent in 2018-2019 to 34 per cent this year.
He said there has also been an increase of those whose first language isn't English or French.
"All of those are contributing to classrooms where teachers are really lacking the resources to focus on and find the learners who may be struggling a bit," said Lamrock.
"Kids are falling through the cracks."
Lamrock sees it as an urgent need that children have the ability to read by eight years old.
That's the age where students should no longer be learning to read, but rather using their reading skills to learn, he said.
2,000 illiterate graduates per year
Lamrock said the decline in literacy rates is "very worrisome."
If nothing changes, he said that would lead to 2,000 illiterate graduates each year.
"If we let this go on for another 10 years, that's like a city the size of Miramichi full of children who should be reading but aren't," said Lamrock.
But he's confident that with some changes the rate can increase once again to where it was in 2010.
"We let 10 years of progress get back to square one," he said, adding it was now time to focus on what we can do to turn this around.
What needs to change
Lamrock said that focus should include consistent improvements with the use of literacy specialists and professional learning communities.
He said there needs to be more community involvement to identify families who are struggling and a use of a whole-school approach, including social pediatrics.
"It may mean publishing this data more quickly, making sure that the schools that are turning literacy around are given opportunities to help schools that are lagging behind," said Lamrock.
He believes there needs to be a reinvestment into experiential learning, meaning engaging activities for students, and a screening and assessment of children at age three to ensure kindergarten readiness.
He said research is needed to identify at-risk groups to support specific needs of children with literacy challenges.
"We've really lost a decade of progress and we can't keep telling ourselves that everything is fine."