N.B. reading levels drive momentum for family literacy

Still of a St. Thomas University student, reading a copy of the children’s book "The Bad Guys." (Daniel Salas/AQ)

A series of annual reports released by school boards in Saskatchewan shows 69 per cent of kids in Grade 3 read at that level or higher last year, well below the upwards of 75 per cent rate reported by that province before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lower literacy levels are a concern echoed by advocates here in New Brunswick.

Kelly Lamrock, New Brunswick’s child, youth and seniors’ advocate, released a report on Nov. 16 leading up to International Children’s Day that called on government and education leaders to put their energy into three main areas of child welfare.

“These are three areas where children deserve better than the status quo,” he said in a November news release.

Figures from the report show only 59 per cent of students in anglophone schools met the reading standard in grade 2 during the 2020-21 school year. 

In francophone schools, the number is slightly higher at 61 per cent, though it dropped from 75 per cent in the 2018-19 school year.

Lamrock said in the report that the worrisome numbers erase 20 years of progress. 

According to the report, literacy levels have not been as low as 59 per cent since 2003. At the time, those levels prompted a “focus on raising student literacy scores.” The highest rate since 2003 was 83 per cent in 2009-10.

Lamrock called upon the government to change classroom composition and urged more research into at-risk groups to address individual problems students may face.

He also suggested providing community supports to encourage family literacy.

Lynda Homer, executive director of the Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick, said in an interview that family literacy is one of the organization’s major focuses.

Its most recent project was developing an online learning guide to help engage parents and their young children, a task Homer said was difficult during the pandemic.

“Programs tend to shut down because they couldn’t do that,” she said.

The organization also teamed up with the Multicultural Association of Fredericton to donate learning materials and books to Ukrainian families new to Fredericton.

“There is a pretty good movement now to strengthen literacy support,” she said.

Homer said stress on the education system could be alleviated with added support for teachers and acknowledgement of other factors that could be affecting a child’s home life and by extension their time at school. 

She added support for students with individual needs must improve on top of more resources for teachers.

“It’s hard to find solutions,” said Homer. “But the solutions lie in giving the proper support and ongoing professional learning.”