Monday, January 03, 2005

Florida school district tries to sort out commercial reading intervention programs News - Best path sought for teens who can't read

This fits my emerging impression -- there's a large knowledge gap around interventions for children who have difficulty reading. Every classroom has its own idiosyncratic practices. It reminds me of medicine in 1890. Sadly, I doubt the Seminole County study will have enough funding or expertise to provide high quality answers. These are terribly difficult studies to do well.

These teens probably needed effective interventions 10 years ago, but I suppose better late than never. Credit to Stacy Weiss for this link.

Note this activity appears to have been motivated by the sanctions in the NCLB act. Points to that legislation, it is not entirely malign. Emphases mine.
By Dave Weber | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted January 1, 2005

SANFORD -- Thousands of high-school students in Florida can't read, and educators are scrambling to help them catch up by using a hodgepodge of methods that vary from district to district, school to school and even classroom to classroom.

No one knows exactly what works.

But Seminole County school officials hope to find out. This month, they will begin a three-year classroom research project, partially funded by the state, that they hope will tell them where to put their effort and their money.

... Working with Dr. Laura Hassler, a reading researcher at Florida State University, Seminole officials hope to develop a reading program that can be duplicated in other districts. Seminole will spend about $2 million on the experiment, including hiring 14 new teachers.

... By next fall, about 2,000 of Seminole's poor readers, mostly freshmen and sophomores, will be split among three approaches to reading instruction, with educators watching intently to see which produce the best results.

... Classes will be limited to 20 students, so teachers can give them more attention. Students will spend 90 minutes each day in reading class.

.... The reading approaches include two costly commercial strategies and another that pulls together several methods at less expense.

Read 180 by the Scholastic company relies heavily on students using computers, and is the most expensive at $439,000. Teachers use a script of carefully drawn activities in SRA Corrective Reading by McGraw Hill, which will cost the district about $130,000.

A third approach, called Strategically Oriented Intensive Reading Instruction, was developed by Evan Lefsky, a reading specialist for the state, and relies on teachers using a certain set of instructional activities. It has a price tag of $84,400.

The district also will train teachers of high-school language arts, science and social studies to gear their classes toward poor readers while at the same time helping students to become better readers.

.... For years the schools passed students along, despite their inability to read. Education reforms including the FCAT, mandatory retention for third-graders who can't read and the state's tough school grading system are sharply reducing social promotions.

... School officials are panicking because while poor FCAT reading scores for the past few years were hurting individual students, now they are giving entire schools bad names.

... now the low reading scores of struggling students affect the letter grade that the state hands out to schools each spring. In 2004, Lake Brantley High got a C and Seminole High earned a D under a provision in the state grading system that drops schools an entire letter if poor performers don't improve two years in a row.

Vogel and superintendents around the state worry that dozens of high schools could be hit with the penalty in June, when new grades come out, because poor readers will drag them down.
The journalist implies we know what to do in the elementary schools. That's certainly not true in my school district. I'll have to learn more about the programs they're trying.

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