Literacy for ME: Maine's Comprehensive State Literacy Plan
III: Making the Case
Maine's Vision for Literacy
When individuals are highly literate, they are better able to interact as citizens, consumers, employees, and parents. Low literacy levels hinder learning, drastically reduce employment opportunities, limit participation in civic life and negatively impact parenting skills. Realizing the goal of all Maine citizens reaching higher levels of literacy will require a long-term commitment from multiple agencies, a variety of integrated approaches, strong financial resources, and prioritized strategies. The construction and implementation of this state literacy plan will guide ongoing work at the state and local levels that promotes the attainment of this important goal. Literacy for ME offers research-supported recommendations, tools, and other resources to support our learning communities, birth to adult, in meeting the challenge and ensuring that all Maine citizens become highly literate. Specifically, Literacy for ME is designed to provide a comprehensive plan to:
- Help Maine's children and adults meet the literacy demands of post-secondary education, careers, and civic life;
- Establish a statewide system of support for evidence-based literacy learning practices across the birth to adult span;
- Inform state-level literacy education efforts;
- Provide guidance to local learning communities for developing and implementing comprehensive local literacy plans; and
- Foster cross-agency collaborations that strengthen literacy across the birth to adult span.
Literacy, as defined by the Maine Department of Education, is the ability to construct and convey meaning for a variety of purposes through an array of contextual forms and symbols, including reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing.
Literacy opens doors to the world. Ensuring that all Maine children enter adulthood equipped to be successful in post-secondary study, careers, and civic life is the ultimate mission of Maine's educational system, and requires proficiency with a variety of literacy-oriented abilities. Reading and understanding a wide-range of complex texts, developing a well supported argument in writing or conversation, accessing and evaluating the quality of information obtained through technology-based tools, and interpreting and applying information presented through an oral presentation are only a few of many abilities literate adults rely on regularly in their daily lives. Strong literacy skills enable humans to be:
- Clear and effective communicators;
- Self-directed and lifelong learners;
- Creative and practical problem solvers;
- Responsible and involved citizens; and
- Integrative and informed thinkers (Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Learning, 2007).
Literacy skills, essential to the health of our democracy and the quality of our culture, have become more important with the explosion of modern communication media. Instruction related to new manifestations of literacy, such as digital and networked information technologies, is crucial for success in the rapidly changing world where learners will be expected to learn and work as adults (Leu, et al., 2007). Effective communication is critical regardless of the devices we use or the distances over which we communicate. Literacy skills make possible communication related to all disciplines across all devices and distances. Without a command of literacy skills, it is difficult to access, think about, understand, or explain the vast amount of content available to us. The need for higher levels of literacy is underscored by the rigorous Common Core State Standards, which Maine has adopted for English Language Arts and mathematics across grades K-12. These standards build students literacy abilities in a progression that ensures readiness for postsecondary study and careers. While the demands of post-secondary study, careers, and citizenship have increased in the last 50 years, instruction in our K-12 educational system related to the reading and writing of complex texts largely has not, leaving a gap for many of our learners.
The State of Literacy in Maine
Literacy for ME is a comprehensive statewide literacy plan aimed at building on Maine's literacy strengths, while addressing current gaps. How effectively is Maine helping our children become highly literate? Some might say we are doing an adequate job, as evidenced by two-thirds of Maine's third through eighth graders meeting the proficient level or greater on State-level reading assessments. Additionally, since 2001, the percentage of public schools offering preschool programs has increased to 29.9% from 10.7% (Donis-Keller, et al., 2010). During the same period, full-day kindergarten programs have become substantially more common. Today, 86% of Maine's school systems have full-day kindergarten, up from 32% in 2001. Additionally, over the past decade, a variety of language- and literacy-related initiatives have been developed and sustained in Maine, helping to strengthen literacy education for Maine's children and families. Some examples include:
- Statewide early learning guidelines for children from birth to age 5, designed to help parents and early learning professionals better understand infant and toddler development and use research-based practices to promote children's early learning and development. These early learning guidelines are divided into two sets: one for infants and toddlers, and another for children ages 3-5.
- A statewide plan for a comprehensive early childhood system developed by the Maine Children's Growth Council.
- Four Early Reading First grants and the first rural Educare Center in United States designed to measurably increase the school readiness of children from low-income families and significantly reduce unnecessary special education costs later on.
- Targeted statewide professional development for K-3 regular educators and K-12 special educators through the Reading First initiative.
- Standards-based education models throughout Maine's K-12 education, adult education, and family literacy systems.
(See Appendix B for more detailed descriptions.)
Additionally, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) has brought digital literacy to the forefront in Maine, and has provided both learners and educators with a wide variety of opportunities to engage in literacy-related learning through technology. Implementation of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) has resulted in 1-to-1 computing for all Maine seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms, 55% of Maine's high schools, and in other grade levels at selected schools. Longitudinal evidence collected through the Maine Education and Research Policy Institute (MEPRI) from the past decade shows that teachers are using the laptops for instructional purposes during class, to customize instruction for individual learners, and for ongoing assessment of learning (Donis-Keller, et al., 2010). Maine educators report that the initiative has enabled them to teach more effectively, efficiently, and in greater depth, as well as extend learners critical thinking skills and help them to integrate multiple sources of information into their work on a variety of topics (Donis-Keller, et al., 2010). Specific research about the impact of MLTI on student writing has demonstrated that the use of laptops for writing has contributed to a statistically significant increase in student writing achievement at the eighth-grade level, and that the more students use laptops as part of the writing process (planning, drafting, final drafts, etc.), the stronger their performance on assessments (Silvernail and Gritter, 2007). To further support this work, the Maine Legislature passed legislation to provide technical assistance and professional development for instruction in digital literacy for Maine schools and to establish a clearinghouse for information on the use of online learning resources.
While Maine has made many positive gains in literacy education, a close examination of the states literacy data suggests that we are falling short of our goal to ensure that all children have the literacy skills necessary for success in post-secondary study, careers, and civic life. These gaps can be seen across the birth to adult continuum.
- Early Childhood Indicators of Need
The experiences learners have in the first five years of life, the influence of caregivers, and the effectiveness of community supports all figure into whether a child is prepared for kindergarten the day he or she arrives in the classroom. Strong families supported by communities and high-quality early care and education play a major role in determining whether children start kindergarten with the ability to be successful learners and readers. Families with sufficient resources are generally at a greater advantage in providing the care and experiences necessary for school readiness. Unfortunately, one in five Maine children under six years old lives in poverty (US Census Bureau 2007-2009). In addition, 65% of Maine's children five and younger have all parents in the workforce. And while high-quality early care and education environments that provide a strong and appropriate early language and literacy foundation are crucial, access and quality are uneven.
Maine encourages quality development in these out-of-home early childhood settings through its voluntary Quality Rating System, Quality for ME, which prescribes performance standards that indicate what is expected of high-quality early childhood programs. Participation in this rating system must grow, however, if Maine is to ensure that more of its youngest citizens receive high-quality learning experiences early in life. Of 1,326 licensed Family Child Care Providers, 43.8% are enrolled in Quality for ME, with only 6% earning the highest rating. Of 708 licensed center based programs, 66.9% are enrolled in Quality for ME, with 29.5% earning the highest rating. While 25% of Maine's elementary schools offer a voluntary public preschool experience, there is no consistent mechanism to ensure strong and appropriate early literacy components are included (Maine DHHS, 2012).
- School-Age Indicators of Need
Once learners enter Maine's K-12 educational system, the literacy data reveal that even though at least two-thirds of Maine learners demonstrate proficiency on state level measures of reading comprehension, gaps still exist. As noted in the table below, 27-34% of learners in grades 3-8 are not meeting the reading standard according to the New England Comprehensive Assessment Program (NECAP) reading results. NECAP Writing data from 2010-11 reveal that Maine students proficiency rates for writing at grade 5 and 8 are far below those for reading. Less than half (43%) of grade 5 students met the standard for writing, while just over half (53%) of grade 8 students met the writing standard.
2010-11 New England Comprehensive Reading and Writing Assessment (Table 1)
% Meeting or Exceeding
% Not Meeting
Another way to think about Maine's data is to translate the percentages into the number of learners these percentages represent. Some 24,769 Maine learners across grades 3-8 are not able to read well enough to meet grade level standards. That is enough learners to fill the Cumberland County Civic Center nearly four times! Can Maine afford to have that many learners not reading proficiently?
Performance concerns are also apparent when the NECAP data are disaggregated by student sub-group. The percentage of eighth-grade learners meeting the reading standard in special populations is significantly lower than that of the general population (Table 2). Furthermore, the 2010 NECAP data show that fewer males (63%) are meeting the reading standard than females (76%).
2010-11 New England Comprehensive Reading Assessment (Table 2)
% Meeting or Exceeding
% Not Meeting
Limited English Proficiency
Students with Disabilities
The proficiency rates of Maine's 11th graders on the SAT are equally troubling. In 2010, 48% of Maine's 11th graders scored proficient or better on the reading portion of the SAT, while 47% were proficient on the writing portion. Maine high schools report that challenges related to literacy instruction include poor learner motivation, insufficient funding, and high absenteeism (Donis-Keller, et al., 2010). In 2010, Maine's dropout rate was 3.46%, which translates to 2,129 students. This has declined since 2007 when it was 5.1%, but still amounts to far too many students dropping out of high school.
An examination of Maine's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading data shows similarly concerning patterns. The average scale scores for reading since 1998 show that while the national scores for fourth and eighth graders have increased or remained constant, Maine scores have declined (Table 3). Further, the gap between Maine's average performance and national performance has steadily narrowed, showing that Maine is losing ground (Table 3).
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
Average Scale Scores for Reading (Table 3)
National Grade 4
Maine Grade 4
National Grade 8
Maine Grade 8
Additionally, the percentage of Maine fourth graders scoring at or above proficient on the NAEP has declined since 2007, dropping from 36% in 2007 to 32% in 2011, while the percentage of Maine eighth graders scoring at or above proficient has increased only slightly between 2007 (37%) and 2011 (38%).
- Causes for Concern in Adulthood
More than 17,000 Maine adults are enrolled in high school completion programs, and more than 3,000 GEDs and adult diplomas are awarded annually, demonstrating the ongoing need for attention to adult literacy. Additionally, more than 16,000 adults participate in adult and family literacy programs, including English as second language programs and parenting skills programs. For many of these adults, low literacy levels have their origin early in life.
As a whole, Maine learners are performing better than the national average, but the number of learners not meeting standards is cause for concern. A recent longitudinal study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation suggests that learners who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without diplomas than those who are reading proficiently (Hernandez, 2011). This statistic is of particular concern when coupled with the finding that nearly sixty percent of all job openings require postsecondary education or training, and success with postsecondary study requires the ability to read and comprehend challenging content and apply that content to problem-solving situations (Carnevale, et al., 2010).
Further, even when learners do graduate from high school, many are not prepared for the literacy demands of post-secondary study, employment, and civic life of the 21st century (Center of Education Policy, 2007). The ever growing need for colleges and universities to provide remedial reading programs for incoming learners (National Center for Education Statistics, 2003), coupled with the billions of dollars private industry invests to bolster the writing skills of entry level workers (National Commission on Writing, 2004), clearly demonstrate the far-reaching economic impact of low-level literacy abilities. Unemployment and lower income levels are the frequent results of school failure and/or underperformance (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2007).
The well-being of Maine citizens requires us to harness our resources, learn from what is working well and find ways of addressing the remaining literacy challenges to produce stronger literacy achievement.