One wall at Western Intermediate School is covered with Post-It notes. Each note represents a student and his or her progress in reaching reading proficiency.
“It is highly visual for teachers to view which of their students are in danger of falling behind in an area of reading,” Principal Heather Hendrich said.
Data like this is becoming increasingly important to elementary school teachers, because starting in the 2012-2013 school year, students who cannot read at third-grade level by the end of third grade will not move on to the fourth grade. Children with learning disabilities and students learning English as a second language may be exempt from retention.
In the Kokomo area, teachers are already working on plans for all their students to meet this requirement. Many are giving reading assessment tests year round, including electronic programs provided by the Indiana Department of Education.
None are waiting until children are in third grade to intervene.
“We think it’s a little late to wait until third grade to have the expectation they are reading on grade level,” said Kokomo-Center Assistant Superintendent Linda Thompson. “We start as early as kindergarten.”
Northwestern Elementary Principal Ron Owings said he agrees it is important to be able to read at grade level by the end of third grade.
“If a student can’t read, they’re not going to be successful in anything we teach here.”
Incoming kindergartners are tested at roundup to see where they are, and children who need extra help receive it from a reading specialist. He has two reading specialists and kindergarten teaching assistants are also trained to work with children in small groups.
He said the assessments help teachers know who needs more help and how each child learns best, so they can meet individual needs.
Owings said if the third-grade requirement was in place this school year, about seven to 10 children would be in danger of being retained, or about 7 to 8 percent of the third-grade class.
Eastern Elementary Principal Randy Maurer said teachers use assessment programs throughout the year to monitor student progress, starting at kindergarten. Those tests give an idea where children are in terms of reading fluency and comprehension, as well as their reading level.
The computer-based program grades the test and gives whole-class and individual reports, so the teacher can see what each student needs to learn. A reading recovery specialist works with children who need more help, and a second teacher is going through training to teach reading recovery, to reach more students.
“We’re looking forward to that. It’s a great program to help kids get back onto grade level,” he said.
Maurer said Eastern’s literacy programs start before children enter school, with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and the preschool programs at the Greentown Children’s Library, which also is the school library.
Imagination Library gives every child who lives in the district a free book every month from birth through age 5. The program has been in place nearly two years, and Maurer plans to monitor progress of children who have been enrolled in that program.
Maurer said the percent of third-graders reading on grade level at Eastern is “usually in the high 90s” by the end of the school year.
Taylor Primary School Principal Shannon Richards said teachers at her school are making changes to the way children receive reading intervention, grouping children by their level of need.
She said they are using a variety of progress monitoring programs “to make sure kids are moving in the right directions,” and provide extra help if they are not.
Like at the other schools, Western Intermediate and Western Primary Schools give electronic assessments throughout the year. Intermediate Principal Heather Hendrich said teachers keep continuous running records from the benchmark testing, which is given three times per year.
Each of the Western schools also has a reading specialist to work with children who need extra help. Hendrich said those who don’t read at grade level are tested biweekly to see if they are making progress and if the interventions are working.
Primary reading specialist Kelly Tuberty said the progress monitoring is key.
“We know the more we monitor the better we know our students. That’s huge. That‘s what drives our instruction.”
Hendrich said 27 percent of third-graders in the 2009-2010 year were below grade level.
title I Assistance
Kokomo-Center Assistant Superintendent Linda Thompson said the challenge for schools is to be ready before the requirement goes into effect. She thinks Kokomo will be ready.
“Kokomo-Center has always been focused on early literacy. We have in place a comprehensive reading framework.”
Thompson said research-based interventions are in place for students not reading at grade level.
She said one of the benefits of consolidating elementary schools from 11 to six is that all of them now receive Title I funding. That funding is based on the percentage of children receiving free and reduced lunch, and is used to meet the needs of children from lower income families.
Thompson said five elementaries are now Title I schools, so the funding can be used for any student, while Boulevard Elementary is a targeted school, meaning the funding can only be used for low income children. Kokomo-Center Schools receives nearly $2 million in Title I funding.
Thompson said students’ reading levels are assessed three times yearly. Those who are struggling are assessed more frequently to see what help they may need immediately.
Dr. Sandi Quinton, Kokomo-Center’s director of Title I services, said the main interventions are working with the children on specific skills in small groups on a daily basis. Some children could receive one-on-one help if they need it, she added.
Thompson said kindergartners are assessed with a Brigance screening, and the average score is 60 to 65 points out of 100.
In the spring 2010 semester, she said, 71 percent of Kokomo-Center’s third-graders were reading at grade level, based on the STAR reading assessment, and 71 percent passed the English/language arts section of the ISTEP test.
“Our goal is to have students reading on grade level at the end of each of their school years,” Thompson said.
Principals all said parents can help their children learn to read by reading to them and reading with them.
“Children who are read to just have a much stronger vocabulary, and reading comprehension is built on their understanding vocabulary. It gives them prior knowledge to hook their new learning to,” Thompson said.
Owings said reading at home should be part of every parent’s day.
“It is tough to do, especially when you are tired and they fight you on baths and they fight you on bedtime, but the dividends are phenomenal.”
• Danielle Rush is the Kokomo Tribune education reporter. She can be reached at 765-454-8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.