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Tuesday, July 3, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 p.m.

Collaboration to improve reading brings award to 8 local cities

Seattle Times staff reporter

The National Civic League presented a joint All-America City Award on Monday to eight King County communities for efforts to increase the number of third-grade children who read at grade level.

Seattle, Auburn, Burien, Federal Way, Kent, Renton, SeaTac and Tukwila shared one of 14 national awards for their work with The Road Map Project.

It was the first year the awards focused on a theme. For more than 60 years, the league gave 10 awards each year in recognition of the best civic work in the country. But a year ago, the national nonprofit announced a partnership with The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

The Road Map Project is part of a collaboration among government agencies, schools and service providers to discuss "cradle to college" education, said Kristin Johnson, communications manager for the Community Center for Education Results. The nonprofit submitted the application for the award and helps coordinate efforts to close school achievement gaps.

"Third-grade reading level is one of the most important benchmarks in education," Johnson said. It is considered an early indicator of how a student will do in high school and college as well as the success of early-education programs in teaching foundational skills.

In South Seattle and South King County, where the Road Map Project operates, only 66 percent of third-grade students read at grade level in 2010. The project hopes to increase that to 87 percent by 2020, which is in line with the state's top 10 school districts.

Children who don't meet the third-grade benchmark and who live in poverty are six times more likely not to graduate from high school, according to The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. In the Road Map Project region, 60 percent of students are nonwhite, 54 percent come from low-income families and 17 percent are learning English as a second language, according to the project's application for the award.

Big changes can come from the little connections made through the partnership, said Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System.

For instance, he sent mobile libraries directly to sites where low-income families participate in federal lunch programs this summer. Children can check out books, and parents can learn about the importance of reading outside the classroom.

"It's important to keep kids reading throughout the summer so their loss is minimized," Ptacek said. "If they're not at the third-grade reading level, it's really difficult for them to catch up."

Jayme Fraser: 206-464-2201 or On Twitter @jaymekfraser

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