06/28/13 — Schools to focus on new reading metrics

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Schools to focus on new reading metrics

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 28, 2013 1:46 PM

Third grade has always been considered a pivotal year in education, but now teachers in grades K-2 will also have to work harder to develop student reading skills.

Statewide, schools will be required to measure everything that is being done to have children prepared for the end-of-grade test, traditionally introduced as the third-grade year wraps up. Similar standardized tests are administered through eighth grade, then as end-of-course tests in high school.

It's all about early literacy, with the goal being for every child to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade, said David Lewis, director of elementary education and athletics for Wayne County Public Schools.

While the district has been preparing for some of the mandates on the horizon, Lewis said efforts are also being made to brace parents for the upcoming changes.

Letters have been sent out to parents of rising third-graders, spelling out some of the expectations when their child returns to the classroom in the fall -- starting with a "beginning-of-grade test."

"You will notice a big focus on reading and on learning math skills and facts that your child will need in fourth grade and even in middle school and high school," the letter said. "For the first time in the fall of third grade, your child will be given a beginning-of-grade standardized test to see how they are reading.

"At the end of third grade, your child will take end-of-grade tests in reading and in mathematics. These tests tell you and your child's teacher and principal if your child has learned the basic skills that he or she needs in order to do well in fourth grade."

The idea of a pre-assessment at the start of the school year is not new, Lewis said.

"The third grade used to take a pre-test at the beginning of third grade," he said, with the end-of-grade test providing a true comparison. "That way they could actually measure their growth. That part is coming back. That'll be another measure that teachers will have."

According to the letter, state law now stipulates that third-graders not reading at a proficient level on the end-of-grade tests will be given additional help. Some options include re-testing, the district providing a free summer reading camp to help improve skills or, if parents opt out of sending the child to camp, can result in the student repeating third grade.

The move is not necessarily that different from past efforts.

"There was a time in the past where there were mandatory programs for students that didn't perform well on the EOG," Lewis said.

The school system already has programs in place to assess where students fall on the reading spectrum. The "Reading 3-D" program introduced this past school year gives teachers "very specific feedback" on foundational tools of reading, Lewis said.

It is based on a model called DIBELS, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, considered a tool of universal screening and progress monitoring. While DIBELS has been around for a number of years, Lewis said the 3-D approach is technologically driven and produced more specific and immediate results.

"Now it's almost instant," he said, explaining that the tools give recommendations of the child's needs and areas of weakness as well as a plan to provide better support.

The 3-D reading program was actually supposed to be in place by 2013-14, but the district opted to implement it early, Lewis said.

"We felt like it would give our teachers a leg up and our students a leg up," he said.

District officials have already spent the better part of a year preparing for what the state will require by law next year, he said.

Sending out letters to parents is just another way to improve communication and awareness of what is on the horizon.

"We haven't kicked in full force. We just wanted to get the word out earlier," Lewis said. "I think what we're finding is the effort we put in starting with kindergarten and making sure kids are on grade level as early as possible, the better prepared (they are).

"We have been talking pretty much since about October of last year. Read to Achieve has been a focus of our elementary principals' meetings, how to prepare for it, what do we already do? Like the use of tutors in our early grades, K, one and two to try to keep them from falling behind."

Lewis said the by-product of the latest effort is expanding the foundation.

"It's not just third grade. It's all the years leading up to third grade," he said.

In the meantime, over the summer months when students aren't in the classroom, there are things parents can do, starting with reading to or with the child.

"I think encouraging reading is the main thing," Lewis suggested. "We want kids to read for pleasure. You don't want to force reading on a child."