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PTA president says reading program helping

December 22, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Marsha Long's first-grader at Conococheague Elementary School is already reading sentences, a task that her older son took longer to master.

Long gives some of the credit to a new reading initiative of the Washington County Board of Education.

The initiative put a reading teacher in each of the elementary schools this year.

Reading teachers have recruited volunteer tutors and started one-on-one evaluations of students' reading skills.

"It seems that the kids are getting more of a head start," said Long, president of the Conococheague Elementary Parent Teacher Association.

At the administration level, the new tests provide another measure of how well the schools are doing.

The results for the first marking period show room for improvement among the school district's 9,300 elementary students, said Jim Newkirk, supervisor of elementary reading.

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Newkirk said he expected such results.

"We have raised the bar," he said.

Among the kindergartners, who are just being introduced to reading, about a third were able to identify basic concepts like the front and back of the book and reading from left to right.

In first and second grades, students are tested on how well they can read books written at their level.

About a third of the first-graders were reading at or above expectations.

"You've got to remember, these are first-graders," who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages, Newkirk said.

In second grade, nearly 60 percent were reading at or above grade level, he said.

From third through fifth grade, the tests change.

Students must read a passage and answer questions about its meaning.

"We found a lot of times, kids could read the words but not understand meaning," Newkirk said.

In third grade, about 37 percent of the students scored at or above grade level.

Another 23 percent were still on second-grade level, which Newkirk said was not bad since the test was given at the beginning of the year. The end-of-year results will be more telling, he said.

In fourth grade, 32 percent were reading at or above grade level and 27 percent were not far off.

In fifth grade, 27 percent were reading at or above grade level and 26 percent were not far off.

Newkirk praised the teachers, parents and students who have put a lot of work into reading.

"The system has asked a lot from our elementary people and they are working hard. They're really making it a priority," Newkirk said.

Patty Truax Blair, president of the Clear Spring Elementary Parent Teacher Association, called the initiative "the first step in the right direction."

Blair said teachers need more time and money to support the effort.

Teachers are overburdened with paperwork and have given up their own planning time, she said.

"We're to the point of max. I don't know where we're going to go with this," she said.

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