Officials speak about high illiteracy rates in Kern County

September 16, 2022 /

Every year during the spring semester all schools around Kern County take assessments to determine whether a student is meeting their reading standards or not.  

 According to, “The Pledge Data” in 2019 the percentage of third graders who did not meet the standard for English/Language Arts was 36.9%. For High School graduates and Non-High School graduates who did not meet the English/Language Arts standard it was 47.6%.

 Only 23% of children of college graduates were below standard and 30% exceeded compared to 15% of children of High School graduates and 11% of children of dropouts.    

“The lowest literacy rates are found in areas of poverty and where there is a great number of English Language Learners,” Kern Literacy Council Executive Director Laura Wolfe said. 

Wolfe explained that the Kern Literacy Council doesn’t track the rates by the area. Kern County has a high illiteracy rate overall except the wealthiest areas. In addition, Wolfe shares that Kern County has many adult schools serving the needs of illiterate and undereducated residents. 

“Early childhood literacy is especially critical to later success. For example, children in grades K – 3 begin to transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Research shows that 3rd grade reading level is one of the strongest predictors of later success in school,” Robert Meszaros spokesperson for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS) said. 

 Meszaros explained that the literacy rates data is not a metric that is tracked specifically within our schools. What is assessed statewide in grades 3 – 8, and 11, is how well students meet academic standards in English Language Arts among other things.  

 “Our biggest obstacle is convincing parents that reading to their children from birth, just 15 – 20 minutes a day and having at least 10 – 20 age – appropriate books in the home, is a big key to school success and breaking the cycle of illiteracy,” Wolfe said. 

 Wolfe explained that in the early years, even if the parent can’t read, just “book cuddling” and talking their way through a picture book, pointing out colors, shapes, and animals will do the trick. 

 “We are pleased to see that the percentage of students meeting or exceeding grade – level standards at the end of third grade had improved by about 10 points from 2016 to 2019,” Wolfe explained. 

  Nevertheless, the assessment results provide an indication about how well a student reads and comprehends what they have read. The results are measured and reported on a scale: standard not met, Standard nearly met, standard met, and standard exceeded.  

 “One countywide initiative that was specifically implemented to close the achievement gap is known as the Kern Education Pledge, which was formed in 2017 by current Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Mary Barlow” Meszaros explained. 

Meszaros explained that The Kern Education Pledge is composed of leaders from Kern’s 46 school districts, partnering institutions of higher education, and the larger community, who committed to working together as one system to improve outcomes for all students as they move through the cradle to career continuum.   

The Kern Education Pledge Literacy supports the Kern County Superintendent of Schools by providing professional development for Kern County teachers on how to teach literacy skills in curriculum for all subjects and grades. These opportunities will help develop all content teacher’s understanding of what literacy is and how to enhance literacy practices within their subject disciplines.  

 The Kern Education Pledge also provides parent and family education and support and encourages families to take a part in their students’ literacy experiences at home. Establishing a love for reading early goes a long way. To point out, this can be done by parents reading aloud to their children from a young age, having their child read to them as they continue to learn and read, and continue reading as they grow up.

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