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A collaborative approach to reading proficiency | Eastside Pathways uses data and shared resources to tackle student performance

Education agency Eastside Pathways has set a goal for 100 percent of third-grade students to read at grade level by 2016.

Third-grade reading proficiency sat at 83.1 percent during the 2011-2012 school year, as published in Pathways' December "Baseline Report" of student performance in the district.

Pathways Executive Director Stephanie Cherrington said third-grade reading ability marks a vital tipping point in education that can set the tone for future learning.

"It's the point that a student stops learning to read and begins reading to learn," Cherrington said said.

The baseline report was the first of planned annual reports collecting data on several indicators of student performance "from cradle to career" — from birth to the age of 26. Pathways is currently trying to determine the most "useful and actionable" timeline for releasing reports, data officer Kelly Jones said.

Some of the indicators — all taken from 2011-2012 data — are based directly on academic performance, such as third-grade reading proficiency. Others relate to wellness, such as the proportion of kindergartners with complete immunizations — 86.2 percent — or the proportion of adolescents reporting more than an hour of daily physical activity. Still others have no data baseline established yet, due to the difficulty of their measurement, or in creation of a clear goal. How do you measure social and emotional skills? Or community involvement?

"Some of (the indicators) are to be determined," Cherrington said. "It could be in the measurement of the data out there, it could be that available data is not reliable or that the thing to measure is broader than can be easily measured. What does community involvement really mean?

"Or (the indicators) might not be quantitative. They may be qualitative."

Socioeconomic environmental indicators, such as rates of student homelessness and eligibility for school meal subsidies are examined closely for their influence on student uplift, though Pathways doesn't have a course of action for these root factors.

But such factors are the organization's reason for being. Founder Bill Henningsgaard — a former Microsoft executive who died in a plane crash in August — had attended a presentation on Lake Hills Elementary which included the statistic that 70 percent of the campus's students qualified for for meal subsidies. When he began to understand the presence and consequences of poverty in Bellevue, he wanted to find a way to correct it, Cherrington said.

"Bellevue is very interesting in that there's … affluence in one area that masks the problems of lower income families elsewhere in the city," she said.

Henningsgaard's solution was an organization that connected the resources of seemingly disparate organizations to act singularly on behalf of students. One of the first examples of Eastside Pathways' methods came with the organization's effort to improve third-grade reading, begun in summer 2013 before the baseline report was released.

"We're able to offer (services) to a lot more kids now," volunteer and reading campaign director Betsy Johnson said.

The campaign targets three factors, Johnson said: kindergarten readiness, class attendance and avoidance of reading "drop off" during the summer. A summer reading campaign was accomplished through cooperation of several organizations. The Bellevue School District was able to identify 250 students who might benefit from summer school, but weren't able to be accommodated by capacity limitations. The district was able to provide meals and transportation for students to the YMCA-staffed Reading Rangers program; The local Boys and Girls Club also held a Pathways-cooperative summer reading program.

"It's a different way of doing business," said Judy Buckmaster, executive director of Bellevue School District's Student Services. "As a district we're able to say 'This is what we're trying to do, can you help us?'

"Having everybody at the table … I really think a big part of it is making sure everyone is aware of the need."

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