Intervention helps kids catch up

October 16, 2005|By KAREN HANNA


With the exaggerated slowness of a warped tape, the students in Leslie Hanks' remedial reading group recite the sounds of short clusters of letters, the "m" sound in mother, the bleating of the short "a" sound in cat.

"Er - aa - m."

The students are in the fourth grade. They read at a first-grade level.

The Maryland School Assessments, which judge both students' and schools' progress, are just a few months away.

Hanks acknowledged that progress for her students at Bester Elementary School might not translate to proficiency on the assessments.

"I think, intuitively, what teachers want, they want to see kids make progress, they want to see kids set realistic goals and make progress toward those goals, but that's not the world we live in right now," Hanks said.


The No Child Left Behind Act requires that students catch up to their classmates and perform at grade level by March, Hanks said.

Hanks, a retired teacher, came to Bester to join a team of classroom teachers, four full-time and part-time intervention teachers, a special-education teacher and two student-achievement specialists who are committed to helping students catch up.

At Bester, 70 students in grades one through five exhibited reading skills a full year or more below grade level, according to figures provided by the school late last month. A total of 117 students with reading skills at least one marking period below grade level were in interventions.

According to the figures, 99 students in grades 1 through 5 are behind in math.

The school, which last year employed one intervention teacher, one behavior-intervention specialist, two student-achievement specialists and two special-education teachers, had 414 students in grades 1 through 5, Stiles said Oct. 6.

Filling in the gaps

Looking around at his classmates, a mix of black and white students, boys and a girl, one boy in the reading group looked around and giggled before admitting he didn't know the meaning of the r-a-m word he had just sounded out.

"It's a big-horn sheep, I think," another boy volunteered.

Hanks said she is focused on addressing holes in children's understanding while sustaining their drive to gain skills many of their classmates already have mastered.

For older students, such as Hanks' group of fourth-graders, being so far behind can get discouraging, Hanks said.

"Not only is it difficult for them, it's difficult for the teachers and anybody who's assisting with the testing," Hanks said.

Teachers work to identify students' weaknesses, fill in the gaps and build on their strengths to move forward, said Patricia Abernethy, deputy superintendent for instruction. Not all students catch on at the same time, Abernethy said.

Since students all learn differently, an "a-ha moment" can happen at any time. That's what keeps teachers teaching, Abernethy said.

"Let's talk about 'Can they catch up?' Yes. Can they do it in a year? Probably not," Abernethy said.

Challenges beyond reading

Clichs about poor parent involvement at the county's most impoverished school don't adequately explain why some students have fallen so far behind, Hanks said.

"You'd like to think that the only thing they deal with is the fact that someone hasn't read to them - you can compensate for that - but there's so much more to it than that," Hanks said.

She recounted seeing parents scream at their children on the playground, and she said even though she sees most students just 30 minutes a day, she can tell when they are bothered by problems at home.

In intervention, the children know they can learn at their own speed without the fear of being embarrassed or swamped by information, Hanks said. Many children crave that attention, she said.

"The older kids, the one thing about (being) intervention teachers, you could be a monster, and they'd still love you because they're being taught at their level," Hanks said.

According to Hanks, several of the students in her lowest-performing group of fourth-graders "are struggling with IQ issues," but only one is eligible to submit a portfolio as an alternative to taking the standardized state test.

About half of the other students qualify for special-education accommodations that could compensate for deficits in reading or other skills, Hanks said.

That's important because federal standards of achievement give the same level of consideration to the passage rates of subgroups, including special-education students and minority students, as the passage rates of all of the students in a school.

According to state statistics, a majority of students who are eligible to submit an alternative portfolio to the state test typically pass state standards. The rest of the special-education population often don't.

Tailoring the curriculum

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