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Early literacy needs to start before kindergarten

The April 26 editorial “Massachusetts schools: Time to talk about special ed” focuses needed attention on early literacy as a way to prevent inappropriate placement in special education in later grades. However, by limiting its call to action to “literacy efforts in grades K-3,” it neglects the critical years from birth to 5 when the foundation of later literacy is laid.

By age 3, children from low-income families, on average, have vocabularies that are half the size of their higher-income peers. Low-income children who attended high-quality early education programs are 40 percent less likely to be referred to special education. They enter kindergarten with stronger language and early literacy skills.


Currently, 39 percent of third graders in Massachusetts score below proficient in reading on MCAS. If we want children to achieve the crucial educational benchmark of reading proficiency by the end of third grade — a strong predictor of future success in school — then we must accelerate efforts to build a statewide system of high-quality early education and care.

We must also focus state attention on the language and literacy development of children, starting at birth. An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, now pending on Beacon Hill, does just that.

Amy O’Leary

The writer is director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children.