From a picture book with successive animals asking “What’s for dinner?” to a book with several complex sentences per pages and few pictures at all — that’s the kind of stride a few struggling readers in District 2 made last year.

District 2 administers English-language schools in southeastern New Brunswick.

Katherine Arsenault, the district’s early years learning specialist, read from both books at the District Education Council meeting last week to show how far a little help can bring some students.

Arsenault was presenting data on the status of literacy in the district.

In kindergarten through Grade 3, struggling readers are pulled out of the classroom for extra help. Most go up about two reading levels during the five-week program, and the district then tracks their progress until the end of the year.

Arsenault says last year was the first time they saw students gain 13 and 14 more reading levels by the end of the year.

“That is quite a feat,” she says, explaining she brought the books along so DEC members could understand what a gain of 14 reading levels would mean for a child.

The majority of students gained between one and four reading levels by the end of the year.

Although the province’s literacy assessments are one way school districts track student progress, they are far from the only way.

In District 2, teachers assess students throughout the year. This can help to give a truer picture of how well students are doing as it is based on performance over time rather than a single assessment.

At the end of last school year, for example, 75 per cent of Grade 3 students in the English program and 90 per cent of Grade 3 French Immersion students, were reading at grade level.

Among Grade 2 students, 78 per cent of students in the English program and 83 per cent of those in the immersion program were reading at grade level, compared to 65 per cent and 83 per cent respectively on the provincial literacy assessment.

Arsenault says the district and provincial assessments do measure different things.

At the district level, teachers are looking for how well students are able to read a text; the provincial assessments have students read a text and answer multiple choice questions to assess how well they understood it.

Bobby O’Keefe, a senior policy analyst with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), says the most important thing is what happens to the information that is gathered.

“(District 2) could have looked at the results and said, ‘We’re on the upswing, so we’re not going to do anything.’ The fact they are still looking at the data and trying to figure out what is happening is a good sign,” he says.

O’Keefe says it may be too soon to tell if the work New Brunswick has been doing on improving literacy and math skills in the past number of years is helping raise the province’s overall levels of literacy and numeracy.