Family Engagement Supports Literacy Achievement

Paul Liabenow is the Executive Director of Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA).

Right now, Michigan is at a crossroads when it comes to supporting the literacy achievement of our third graders. As we know, third grade is a critical year for students wherein reaching certain benchmarks of literacy achievement is a must.

And yet during the 2014–15 school year, M-STEP assessments revealed that 53,481 of 107,178 Michigan third graders were not proficient in English language arts. Because research shows that the literacy skills developed from Kindergarten through third grade are predictors of later reading achievement, it is clear that in Michigan we need to increase support of our students as they become readers during those critical early years

Our plan of action must be a concerted, strategic effort—not only around classroom instruction, but also around family engagement. Over the summer, young readers are vulnerable to the summer slide, the loss of reading skills while school is not in session. Regular independent reading and reading aloud with families is an important tool for preventing the summer slide. In fact, we know from the Kids & Family Reading Report that the majorities of both kids (80%) and parents (96%) agree that summer reading will help kids during the school year. But parents need the necessary tools to support their children. And educators need to know how to support parents. 

Getting parents and families involved in their children’s reading lives is a necessary component of literacy instruction. As family engagement expert Dr. Karen Mapp has noted, parents want to be partners and “co-producers” of their children’s academic success. Yet, family engagement is often treated as an afterthought or add-on, when it must be integrated into a robust curriculum and schoolwide culture. As Dr. Mapp has said, school leadership must drive this change.

In order to stop the summer slide and support literacy achievement, schools and teachers need the right tools to help kids and parents. With strong, targeted professional development in the areas of family engagement and literacy instruction, educators will know how to help parents, allowing parents to become true learning partners, fully invested in their children’s success.

It is through a strong, equal and two-way partnership with families that we will be able to turn Michigan third-graders’ reading lives around, beginning with support around summer reading this year.