Palm Springs Unified School District has been selected to participate in a county initiative that will focus on early literacy among K-through-12 students, the district announced Thursday.

The “Readership” initiative funded by California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond’s $1 million-Literacy Partnership Grant, is intended to support the district’s literacy education and improve students’ English Language Arts (ELA) tests scores.

Palm Springs Unified School District is one of nine Riverside County districts chosen to participate in the program. The others are Alvord, Beaumont, Corona-Norco, Desert Sands, Jurupa, Menifee, Moreno Valley and Val Verde.

The performance of Riverside County students on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests in 2019 generally lagged behind students statewide, according to the California Department of Education (CDE).

In Riverside County, 18.53% of the more than 220,000 students who took the tests in 2019 exceeded the state standard in English, up from 17.44% the previous year. According to the state, 29.09% met the standard, up from 28.74% last year; while 23.86% “nearly” met the standard, down from 24.14% last year; and 28.52% failed to meet it, down from 29.69% the previous year.

The Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE) was chosen because of “current literacy efforts, paired with unmet needs that can be met under this new partnership,” according to an RCOE statement.

The CDE also chose the Tulare County Office of Education to receive funding from the Literacy Partnership Grant.

The partnership with the state will allow the county’s education office to implement strong efforts for early literacy learners and work with established bi-literacy programs. There is also “great potential” for customized efforts to meet the needs of specific undeserved populations such as English learners, native tribe populations, homeless youth and foster young student groups, according to the county office.

“The achievement gap between white students and students of color is present before they even begin kindergarten,” said RCOE Superintendent Dr. Judy D. White. “It’s critical all students are proficient readers, that we encourage and support a love of reading, and ultimately, help to improve the literacy rates for all students in Riverside County.”

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