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Reading scores improve

August 27, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Washington County elementary school students showed overall improvement at each grade level during the 1998-99 school year, according to test results.

Separate tests were conducted in the fall and spring.

It was the first year of the Washington County Board of Education's Elementary Reading Initiative, a plan to boost literacy among younger students.

More than 9,220 students took new assessments that will continue this school year, which begins Monday.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. warned against celebrating too soon, suggesting one year isn't enough time to measure the program's benefits.

"It's important that we have extended success," he said.

Elementary Reading Supervisor James E. Newkirk gave a summary of the year's test results to the School Board last week.

"I am just so pleased with the growth of fluency in our children," Newkirk said. "We are doing some really neat things in elementary schools and we are meeting the needs of all our students."

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In kindergarten through second grade grades, teachers tested each marking period using books picked to be benchmarks. The students had not seen the texts, which get harder each period.

Teachers listened to students read and scored their fluency. Students lose points for mistakes such as mispronouncing a word, skipping a word or adding a word.

In grades three through five, students were tested at the start and end of each school year using an "informal reading inventory." Based on how many words in a list of 20 they understood, students were given a passage to read silently.

After reading it, they answered comprehension questions.

Both tests use scales of 100. If a child scores 89 or below, he is considered below that grade's reading level. If he scores between 90 and 94, he is considered "on level." A higher score means "above level."

By the end of the school year, the majority of students in every grade but kindergarten were reading on or above level. Some grades showed marked improvement.

For example, 33 percent of the 1,436 first-graders tested in the first marking period were on or above level. There were 10 fewer students by the fourth marking period, but 72 percent were on or above level. "That's really a great growth," said Newkirk.

In second grade, the percentage rose from 59 to 71 between the first and fourth marking period. In third grade, the percent rose from 37 to 71. In fourth grade, it rose from 32 to 71. In fifth grade, it rose from 27 to 64.

Newkirk said the data is skewed for grades three through five. At the beginning of the year, students were not allowed to look at passages they read while answering questions about them. At the end of the year, they were allowed to re-read the texts during the exam.

The change may have made it easier for students to score well, but Newkirk said it made testing more effective. This year students will again be allowed to re-read testing passages.

Kindergarteners also showed improvement, but those on or above level dropped from 68 percent to 58 percent between the third and fourth marking periods.

Their teachers used the first two marking periods to test "concepts of print," such as the ability to isolate words on a page and recognize the parts of a book.

Newkirk said the fourth-period book was much more difficult than the third-period book, causing the decrease. It was less predicatble and had fewer pictures. "I knew we were going to drop. It is understandable," he said. "Remember these are emerging readers."

Bartlett said the program's challenge is maintaining reading skills from grade to grade. Students can lose some ability during summer vacations, but summer programs help reinforce what they learn.

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