Boston Opportunity Agenda Releases Second Annual Report Card

Improvements made in most areas – plan announced to reverse decline in 3rd grade reading scores

November 2, 2012

For immediate release: November 7, 2012 
Contact:  Kristin McSwain - 617-338-1620

Boston – The second annual report card from the Boston Opportunity Agenda finds continued progress across Boston’s education pipeline in 2011/2012, including substantial gains in 10th grade MCAS scores,  but still finds low scores in 3rd-grade reading.

The Agenda, an unprecedented partnership of the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, the city's leading public charities and local foundations, found continued annual improvement in college retention rates, 10th grade mathematics, science and literacy, high school completion and early literacy measures. However, data show gains made in early literacy have not carried over to third grade, where reading scores on the MCAS fell in 2011/2012 for the second straight year. Just 34 percent of Boston students scored proficient or higher on the Spring 2012 test.

“Boston and Massachusetts lead the nation in reading scores, but the reality is that far too many of our students are not where they need to be to succeed in school,” said Kristin McSwain, Executive Director of the Boston Opportunity Agenda. “By targeting 3rd grade reading as an area of improvement, we can provide a valuable model for the rest of the nation, while doing a better job serving our students at a critical time in their learning.”

Decades of research have recognized the importance of reading proficiency by 3rd grade for students to be able to keep up with content in higher grades.

The challenges at the third-grade level come even as students continued to show early literacy improvements as measured by the series of special tests called DIBELS, or "Dynamic Indicators of Early Literacy Skills," administered when children enter Kindergarten and again when they leave Kindergarten. 57% of entering Kindergarteners met the DIBELS benchmark, as did 76% of those leaving Kindergarten.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino praised the work of the Boston Opportunity Agenda and its  partner organizations for their commitment to Boston’s young people. The Mayor was heartened by gains made in most areas, but remains concerned about the proficiency of third graders in literacy. 

Today,  Mayor Menino called on the Boston Public Schools and its partners to bring focus and intention to this targeted population and asked that the Boston Public Schools, in conjunction with ReadBoston, Thrive in Five and the Opportunity Agenda, convene a panel of experts to address this critical issue.

“Over the years, many people have worked hard to improve literacy rates at the third grade, but progress has been limited,” Mayor Menino said. “It is time for us bring together experts in the field of literacy, both within and outside of the BPS, to determine how best to coordinate efforts, use data wisely, assess and shore up the district’s strategies, optimize our partners, and plan for the future.”

The panel, co-chaired by Dr. Nonie Lesaux, Associate Professor for Human Development at that Harvard Graduate School of Education and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson will convene in late January.

“We are making strong progress in our work to strengthen learning opportunities for our teachers and we are prioritizing our resources to invest in specially-trained literacy staff throughout the city, but much more work remains,” said Dr. Johnson. “We are pleased the Mayor is convening this talented group so we can look deeply at what we must do as a community inside and outside of the classroom to help all our students succeed.”

The Boston Opportunity Agenda was praised by Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, who spoke at the Report Card release. "By setting clear goals and investing in high-leverage initiatives all along the cradle-to-career continuum, the work in Boston represents a powerful commitment to put and keep the city’s children on a path to success in school and life,” said Smith.
The education pipeline begins by building a solid educational foundation for all of Boston's children and continues through the entire K-12 system, effectively preparing Boston's students for high school graduation, college readiness and success. It also extends to adults, including parents and immigrants who have missed or been denied opportunities for education and job training.

The report card uses the 2008/2009 school year as its baseline and reports on progress over the last school year while measuring progress against goals the Agenda has set for the 2013/2014 school year-five years after its launch.

At higher levels, Boston students continued to make significant progress toward those goals. An estimated 34% of 8th graders were enrolled in 8th grade Algebra, an important measure that is critical to keeping students on a trajectory to college success. In 2008/2009, just 4% were enrolled.

Among the other highlights:

At the 10th-grade level, 53% of Boston students passed the 2012 MCAS test versus 48% a year earlier, with gains greater than those of Massachusetts students as a whole.

The dropout rate for Boston Public Schools students remained low, at 6.0%, with the dropout rate for students who entered 9th grade in 2006 is at its lowest level in nearly two decades.

“The data show that we are making progress getting students through high school and into college at higher rates – but our work is not at all done,” said Reverend Ray Hammond, who chairs the Boston Opportunity Agenda. "We must continue to address race and gender gaps and continue to mobilize and align the nonprofit, philanthropic, business and public sectors to ensure our overall success."

The Boston Opportunity Agenda's primary goals and benchmarks are: A Strong Educational Foundation; On Track for High School Graduation; College Completion; and Post-Secondary Attainment. In order to achieve these goals, the Agenda's partners are funding initiatives and pilots that demonstrate the ability to rapidly move individuals from poor academic performance to success and/or provide data about system changes that will ensure the long-term increased success of all learners.

The partnership sets a national standard for collaboration around a shared set of goals, driven by data, and accountable through regular reports to the community. Annual updates with continue through the 2013/2014 school year.


Launched in June of 2010, the Boston Opportunity Agenda is a historic partnership among the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, and the city's leading public charities, foundations and other donors-with the community-wide goal of achieving greater opportunity and upward mobility for Boston's young people and adults.  To date over $20 million has been raised and invested in Boston Opportunity Agenda priority initiatives.