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Education Station: Literacy Dashboard event shows COVID's effect on state of literacy in Cleveland

Per a report released by the Literacy Cooperative, nearly half of Cuyahoga adults are not reading proficiently. However, preschool enrollment is up dramatically.

CLEVELAND — An area organization dedicated to improving literacy released its annual report. This year, it focused on the effects of the pandemic on reading — highlighting some positives, but also some struggles for Cleveland residents young and old. 

The Literacy Cooperative held its fourth annual Cuyahoga County Literacy Dashboard last Friday. The event, a fixture since 2019, is a yearly update on the state of literacy in the county — primarily early childhood and adult. The results this year were a mixed bag.

"What we saw from 2020 to 2021 was that there was a rebound, certainly from the COVID years," Bob Paponetti, president and CEO of the Literacy Cooperative, said. "However we're still a little bit down from pre-pandemic levels."

This year's report, livestreamed from Tri-C, focused on the impact COVID-19 has had on literacy in our area.

Let's start with the good news: Our littlest ones are back in class in a big way.

"Quality preschool enrollment, the good news — it's up drastically from last year, 54%," Paponetti told those assembled. "They're getting big help from programs like Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which mails a free book each month to children 5 and under. Over 400,000 books were mailed to Cuyahoga County kids this year.

"The survey shows clearly that since children have been getting these books in the mail, they are asking their parents to read with them more often. In high-poverty zip codes, 76% of respondents are saying their child is asking to read more now that they're receiving these books."

However, sobering statistics for our K through 12th-graders were also contained in the report. A little over half of Cuyahoga County kindergarteners are not on track to read at grade level, 40% of Ohio 3rd graders are not considered proficient in reading, and about 13% of county high school students failed to graduate within four years.

This "literacy cycle" shows kids who start behind can become adults who stay behind. Specifically, about 54% of adults in Cuyahoga County are not at the highest proficiency when it comes to reading. 

"Twenty-one percent are at that lowest reading level," Laurie Atkins-Holliday, Literacy Cooperative's vice president of strategic initiatives, shared. "Thirty-three percent are in that in-between level."

These numbers show that less than half of all Cuyahoga County adults – 46% — are considered "proficient" readers. The 90-minute event also focused on solutions to that problem.

"There has to be a concerted effort to attack from all stakeholders, starting out at birth," panelist and Warrensville Heights Schools Superintendent Donald Jolly said. "We have to immerse our young people in literacy, we have to provide books and resources for our youngins, we have to partner with our local institutions — such as our libraries, YMCAs, rec centers — and make literacy the focus." 

"Bottom line: Everyone can benefit by having literacy and numeracy incorporated in whatever we're doing," Atkins-Holliday added.

The Literacy Cooperative is a proud participant of 3News' Cleveland Reads Campaign that we will be kicking off soon. The goal is for the entire city to collectively read one million books and/or one million minutes in 2023. Registration is open now, so sign up at ClevelandReads.com.

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