When I was in fourth grade, there was this box in the back of our classroom. It was filled with multi-colored tabs with stories and questions printed on each. Our teacher was Ms. Evans, yes, she was my mom  — and that box was the SRA reading lab.

Dr. Don Parker created the SRA reading lab in 1950 for 32 seventh graders in a cash-strapped rural Florida school. Parker wrote that he created the SRA lab to overcome what he called, “the normal curve of individual differences.”

Last Summer Mayor Sly James told me about Turn The Page KC, a nonprofit organization working to increase the number of Kansas City students reading at grade level by 3rd grade. When I started this story, I thought I’d learn why schools fail kids and how a small group of people are filling the gap. 

I learned something many of our policy makers haven’t — that literacy has so much to do with what happens outside the school building; what infants and toddlers hear from their parents, their proximity to stress and trauma, their attendance, and something called the Thirty Million Word Gap. 

This’s important because literacy is about a lot more than a school building or a talking point. It’s a function of what the SRA’s creator, Dr. Parker, found almost 70 years ago; meet kids where they are, help families lay out a series of stepping stones and help kids move along as they get closer and closer to the developmental milestone of third grade.

Today’s thing, is the SRA Reading Box. And this episode is “The Book I Read: fixing third grade literacy.