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Building reading skills

May 12, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Specialized reading teachers across the Tri-State are helping students who read below their grade level to read and comprehend literature faster than they would in a regular classroom.

In Jefferson County Public Schools, Derby Hammond, Title I reading recovery teacher, said the success rate for struggling readers through the school system's reading program is astronomical.

Title I schools receive more state and federal funds based on poverty levels.

The program, with nine teachers, all with master's degrees in reading, serves three county elementary schools, and works by identifying first-grade students who are struggling with reading. The lower 50 percent of students are tutored one-on-one within a 12- to 20-week period by a reading specialist who works to bring the student up to an average reading level or higher, Hammond said.

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Greencastle-Antrim School District works under a similar reading intervention program. A reading specialist teaches an extended-day kindergarten class for struggling readers, while three reading-recovery teachers serve first-graders, each serving four children a day individually, said Molly Moran, Title I coordinator for the school system.

Hammond said 70 to 80 students a year are served through the program, which has a 79 percent to 81 percent success rate.

The six-year reading recovery program in Jefferson County is paid for with federal money, Hammond said.

To determine which students need assistance, the schools give The Observation Survey, a reading test developed by New Zealander Marie Clay.

The survey, given within the first weeks of school, tests students on reading concepts such as letter identification, word reading, writing vocabulary, hearing and how those words are transferred into writing.

In Washington County Public Schools, elementary school reading improvement teachers use Rigby Benchmark Assessment Books to determine at what level new students and returning struggling readers are reading, said Pamela Michael, reading improvement teacher at Winter Street Elementary School.

There are 25 reading improvement teachers in Washington County's elementary schools, said JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, the school system's executive director of elementary education.

Next year, the name for reading improvement teachers will change to achievement specialists. They not only will tutor children in reading and model reading lessons, but will be expected to help struggling students in all subjects and help model lessons in all subjects for teachers, Palkovitz-Brown said.

She said the role of the reading improvement teacher was changed to mold to the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind act, which is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.

Michael said at Winter Street Elementary School, a Title I school, she has three instructional assistants and one reading intervention teacher to help curb struggling (well below grade level) or fragile (slightly below grade level) readers.

Michael, who focuses on the primary grades, said teachers can identify reading levels by how well a student reads one of the 15 grade-level books within the Rigby Series.

She said sometimes struggling students who have been brought up to grade level before leaving school for summer vacation often need the help of a reading intervention teacher when they return to school.

Frequently, children aren't reading enough or at all over the summer, she said.

Michael said she'd like to see city schools in session year-round so teachers can ensure that students maintain their reading level over the course of the summer.

In the Greencastle-Antrim School District, schools try to help students learn to read before they enter Greencastle-Antrim Primary School, Moran said.

She said letters are sent out to parents of children between infancy and kindergarten to tell them about literacy and language development programs the school periodically offers prior to student registration.

Moran said a recent session required parents to bring their young children along with four photographs of people important in their lives. She said the parents and children made books and talked about why it's important for parents to read to children.

"We want the warm feeling of them sitting on their mom or dad's lap to carry over into the classroom," she said.

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