BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — New test scores show some elementary students in Buffalo are falling behind in reading, writing, and math.
The district released a lengthy report outlining the dynamic indicators of basic early literacy skills, often called DIBELS, for elementary school students in Buffalo Schools. The district says these are baseline numbers from the beginning of the school year and they are pushing to improve them significantly by the end of the year.
“We don’t necessarily assume that they are going to be starting the year proficient, but our goal is that we teach them what they need so that they can become proficient by the end of the year,” Anne Botticelli, Buffalo Public Schools’ Chief Academic Officer, told News 4. “The test that you’re referencing actually gives us good information about potential defects that the kids might have, gaps in understanding so that we can target those.”
The DIBELS assessments measure a student’s ability to read, write, and do math on grade level. For economically disadvantaged third graders in Buffalo, the scores are low, which some parents say is disappointing.
According to the data, a large proportion of these students from different racial backgrounds are behind in reading. Only 29% of Black and African American third graders who have an economic disadvantage can read on grade level.
The numbers are even more drastic for math skills with only one percent of Black and African American third graders with an economic disadvantage doing math on grade level. Just 0.3% of Hispanic third graders who are economically disadvantaged can do math on grade level at the beginning of the school year.
“If the kids already cannot subtract or add a single digit by a single digit, but you just spent an hour every day telling them to subtract a three by three, you’re never going to fill that in,” a BPS math coach said. “The pressures that come down to stay kind of on pace, doesn’t necessarily specialize to help the individual student.”
The district says it has added additional resources, including literacy and math programs as well as academic coaches for students and teachers. It is also changing early education curriculum to strengthen literacy skills.
One math coach from a Buffalo Public School says in their building there aren’t enough coaches to get students up to speed. They say teachers cannot specialize their instruction to a certain subset of students.
“In our building we have close to 630 people this year, we have two reading teachers that also help support. When you talk about numbers that way, you’re already at a very low percentage of them being able to go into classrooms and being able to help students too,” the BPS math coach said. “You have to know how to enrich them for the kids who are on or above, so that they’re not bored in the classroom. You have to figure out, well I’m a third grade teacher but I have to work on Kindergarten standards. What does that even look like?”
Parents are also saying students experiencing the highest economic need are falling behind fast, and need extra support now.
“You learn to read so you can read to learn. So if you get to third grade and you haven’t learned to read, you’re not going to be learning from that point on, so we have to solve this problem from at the Pre-K through 2 level,” Sam Radford III, director of CAO Better Schools Better Neighborhoods, added.
Parent leaders say the district and families need to work together to address social and emotional needs of students, so that they have the best opportunity to learn.
“Especially with our students that are struggling the most struggling the most academically, they are usually struggling with other things. No amount of reading or math program if we don’t address those underlying needs is going to help improve them academically,” Jessica Bauer Walker, president of the Community Health Worker Parent Association, said.
Students will take these tests again in January and at the end of the year. That’s when the district says it will be able to identify if progress is being made and what other changes need to be made to ensure student success.
Full DIBELS report is below:
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.