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County students make gains in reading

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By PATRICK HALL
The Wilson Post

Thanks to a federal Education Jobs Program, Wilson County Schools are making considerable gains for students who were identified to receive reading intervention as the Board of Education listened to results from the program on Monday night.

Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction Monty Wilson said that four certified teachers were hired with federal EJP money in 2010 with one placed at each high school to help the 253 students identified as reading below grade level.

After working with teachers in special group lessons, private tutoring and basic reading classes, Wilson said the students gained on average three years worth of reading comprehension.

The majority of these students were reading at a middle school level, while some were still reading at an elementary level, Wilson told the board, noting that students on a sixth grade reading level improved to a ninth grade level.

In the fall of 2010, the county schools received approximately $2 million to hire reading teachers for students whose reading skills were below grade level. The county has since monitored the success of the program to consider its continuation.

The following semester, in 2011, eighth grade students were administered the Test of Silent Contextual Reading Fluency or TOSCRF and 156 students, or approximately 11 percent of rising ninth graders, were shown to be severely behind in grade level reading fluency.

These students received a full semester of reading intervention prior to enrolling in an English 1 course, Wilson said. At the conclusion of one semester the average student gained three years of fluency.

Wilson pointed out those 156 students would have tested as Below Basic on the English 1 End of Course Test if they had been moved straight into English 1 as freshmen. He said many of those students were reading at or around a sixth grade level when they would be expected to study plays such as Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar in ninth grade English.

If youre reading at a sixth grade level, youre just not going to understand Shakespeare, Wilson said.

After a full years worth of data, Wilson said hes hoping to show that these students were able to not only pass English 1 but test Proficient on the English 1 EOC test as a result of receiving the additional reading course.

He said if the program were allowed to continue, he would want to monitor the students progress throughout high school to even take into account their graduation rates. By reading on grade level upon entering high school, Wilson said these students would be more likely to graduate than if they didnt receive the additional course.

These 156 students reading fluency level is on grade level, which will enhance not only their ability to read, but their probability of graduating high school and being college and career ready, he said.

The program was also implemented in elementary schools to make sure students are able to read on grade level by third grade, which board members indicated was the first real benchmark to reading comprehension skills.

The third grade level is really the first benchmark and for whatever reason, were failing there, said Zone 4 board member Ron Britt.

According to data obtained from local elementary schools, nine out of 12 saw a decrease in the number of students who tested Below Basic on their Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test, or TCAP.

In all, 24 additional teachers were hired to assist the schools regular classroom teachers for improving reading levels districtwide.

Director of Schools Mike Davis said while they received around $2 million from federal funds to start the program, it wouldnt be as expensive to continue providing the additional reading instruction.

Zone 1 board member Vikki Adkins said the certified teachers they hired are getting paid as educational assistants, indicating the school system is getting a major bargain.

Board members indicated they wanted to present the data to Wilson County Commissions Education Committee and possibly the full commission to show the value of the additional programs.

We need to put together a presentation for the education committee about the success of this program, said Don Weathers, board chairman and Zone 3 member. To me, this is more important than anything else we have going on in any of our other programs.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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