Flint, MI—While Flint Community Schools (FCS) students have shown recent improvement in math and reading, school officials report that early literacy skills among the district’s youngest scholars have continued to decline. 

At an Oct. 26 Flint Community Schools Board of Education meeting, Diona Clingman, executive director of academics at FCS, presented scholars’ fall assessment results from 2020 to 2022.

“While we are excited about the increase in scholars meeting their projected growth, we still have work to do,” Clingman said to the board. “But we know that some things that we are doing [are] working.” 

Clingman shared results from the NWEA Measure of Academic Progress assessments. Formerly known as the Northwest Evaluation Association, the NWEA’s assessments gauge student growth in math and reading. 

Of the students who completed the tests, 27.6 percent of scholars from first grade through twelfth grade across the district met their projected growth in math from fall 2020 to fall 2021. That number rose to 52.2 percent from fall 2021 to fall 2022. 

In terms of reading, 36.1 percent of students met their growth projection from fall 2020 to fall 2021, with 45.8 percent of students meeting their projection from fall 2021 to fall 2022, according to Clingman’s presentation. 

“We’re not where we want to be,” Kevelin Jones, Flint Schools superintendent, said to the board. “I’m not throwing it out there like Flint is in the lead or anything like that. But I’m saying, to see that growth is an awesome thing and our staff deserves kudos for that. While dealing with COVID, we still found a way to grow.” 

Clingman attributed the return to in-person learning as a major reason for the positive trends in Flint students’ math and reading growth. 

“Online learning took a big toll on our scholars,” Clingman told Flint Beat. “It was the best thing that we could do at that time. Everybody was trying to stay safe because of COVID.” 

“But,” she added, “we know as educators that face-to-face instruction is really important, especially for our younger scholars.”

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While first to twelfth-grade students showed progress in their growth for math and reading, a separate test highlighted that Flint’s kindergarten through third-grade scholars’ literacy skills have declined in the same timeframe.

The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) test involves a range of measures in literacy skills like letter naming, phonemic skills and reading fluency.

Clingman said while neither assessment is administered in every school in the nation, the NWEA serves as a screener for students’ academic progress, and the DIBELS assessment digs deeper into young scholars’ foundational literacy skill level.

The percentage of Flint scholars at or above the national average on DIBELS decreased to 15.5 percent in fall 2022, down from 16.8 percent in fall 2021 and 20.8 percent in fall 2020.

“Our scholars are dealing with issues when it comes to letters and sounds,” Clingman said. “It’s called phonemic awareness. That’s one of the biggest challenges that we’re trying to work on.” 

Increasing literacy opportunities like hosting book fairs, authors and family engagement nights, using a program known as Heggerty and employing individualized literacy plans at each school are among the ways the district is working to strengthen scholars’ literacy, Clingman said. 

The executive director added the district is also educating parents on strategies to help with their kids’ reading and writing. 

All in all, Clingman said, “We’re still having challenges when it comes to proficiency, but our students are growing academically, absolutely … We know if they are growing, then eventually they will get that proficiency.”

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...