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State of Our Children address highlights progress, challenges

Rochester Business Journal
October 25, 2016

Third-grade English scores are up, as are fourth-grade math scores, suggesting that the targeted efforts to help younger students—such as summer learning and attendance blitzes—have had a favorable impact.

But the 2016 State of our Children report card produced by ROC the Future shows there is still plenty of room for progress. The latest report card was unveiled at a Tuesday morning breakfast that brought together leaders from the school district, county and city government and nonprofits.

“A 2012 study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that children in poverty who do not read at grade level by third grade are four times as likely to drop out of school. And that will not break the cycle of poverty,” said Rochester Business Journal’s new interim publisher Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, who led off the event, which is part of the RBJ Power Breakfast series.

Only 8.2 percent of third graders were deemed proficient in English in 2016, but that was up from 6.6 percent a year ago. “There is certainly much work to be done,” Fischer-Huettner added.

Expanded learning opportunities are reaching fewer than half the city’s children, with 65 percent of youth without access to after-school programs. And while efforts to increase attendance meant about 620 more students were regularly attending class in 2016, almost a third of students K-12 remain chronically absent, the report card showed.

Keynote speaker Ralph Smith, of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, raised concerns about a growing number of children who are falling “beyond the reach of schools.” These are youngsters who are behind developmentally when they enter school, lose whatever ground they gained during the summer and are oftentimes chronically absent.

Addressing these and other challenges is “less of a sprint and more of a relay,” he said, requiring not just leadership but stewardship from members of the community.

At the high school level, the percentage who graduate remains at 51 percent, and the number of graduates who entered Monroe Community College ready for college-level work has not improved and shows a slight decrease from the two prior years.

In better news, an initiative that provides volunteers to help students and families fill out the complex Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, appears to have triggered in increase in the number of graduates who apply for financial aid, up from 25 percent in 2015 to 28 percent this year. The FAFSA plays an important role in making college accessible because it is required to qualify for federal Pell grants and by most colleges to determine financial aid packages.

“If we are to see improvements across the board for our children, it will take maximum effort and support from the community,” said Chris Wiest, vice-president of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and treasurer of ROC the Future, in a statement accompanying the report card’s release. “We hope this data brings even more community partners to the table so we can build upon the work being done and further our results.” 

ROC the Future is an alliance of more than 50 leading Rochester-area institutions and community partners that works with the city schools to promote alignment of strategies, resources and accountability for improving the academic achievement of Rochester’s children. 

This was the group’s fourth annual report card tracking a total of 45 cradle-to-career indicators from prenatal care to college readiness.

Follow Anne Saunders on Twitter: @asaunders_rbj

(c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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