Task force recommends language and literacy program improvements

A coordinated effort to enhance foundational reading instruction for all children in Chicago is needed to improve citywide language and literacy outcomes and to help close the achievement gap between children with and without disabilities.

That is one of the key recommendations of a task force of 25 Chicago-area early childhood leaders and advocates that included Erikson Institute Associate Professor Pamela Epley, Ph.D. Formed in 2015 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ADA 25 Literacy Task Force examined the breadth of the reading achievement gap and best practices that could help close it.

The task force identified three priorities along with numerous recommendations for helping make the priorities reality:

  1. Strengthen the teaching of language and literacy to all children from birth to third grade, especially those who struggle with reading.
  2. Improve the way schools identify and support students in preschool to third grade who struggle with reading, especially those with disabilities.
  3. Improve the delivery of services to students with disabilities from birth to preschool.

“The task force’s priorities and recommendations represent a step in the right direction to helping children with disabilities get the reading and language instruction they need for success later in life,” says Dr. Epley, whose own research focuses on supporting children with disabilities and their families.

All children would benefit from stronger language and literacy instruction early in life, as research indicates that language development in the first five years of life has a major impact on reaching achievement as children get older, the report notes. The majority of children with disabilities also can go on to reach the same reading achievement levels as those without disabilities if provided quality early intervention.

Yet the reading achievement gap between Chicago elementary students with and without disabilities widened between 2003 and 2015. While reading achievement increased during those years among fourth- and eighth-grade students without disabilities, there was little to no change among students with disabilities. The initial goal set forth by the task force for Chicago schools and students is to cut the reading achievement gap in half by 2021.

The next step is to translate the task force’s work into action, Dr. Epley says. The report will be shared with Chicago Public Schools administrators as well as with leaders outside the public education system, such as directors of museums, community-based preschools, and social service agencies, with the goal of establishing interagency initiatives that address the task force’s three priorities.

“The task force intentionally looked beyond school settings to see how children’s language and literacy needs are being supported,” Dr. Epley says. “There are many community resources that have the potential to help provide a solid foundation for children’s reading achievement.”

Read the full report