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December 12, 2004

A Parent's Thoughts on Learning to Read - Next Step Considerations

MMSD District Administration will be making a presenation on the MMSD Literacy Program Research tomorrow during the Performance and Achievement Committee meeting. I hope significant time is spent discussing a) results and next steps for MMSD's Balanced Literacy approach to learning to read and write b) an analysis of alternative reading interventions and c) analysis and reasons that led the Superintendent to turn down Reading First grant funds.

If there are teachers who are using teaching methods/curricula that are not part of the current Balanced Literacy approach, but are effective with the student population who is not at the proficient and advanced reading levels, board members need to ask to see the results.

Why look at the results? All teachers want each child they teach to be successful learners. If teachers are being successful in their teaching approach, the District Administration needs to learn from these efforts and incorporate them into their existing curricula. Continuous change to improve best practices through various feedback mechanisms is an important part of a successful change in an organization.

Should Madison be celebrating?
MMSD has cause for celebration, because a) 80% of the student population is reading at the proficient and advanced reading levels and b) the achievement gap for Madison's students who are not low income has been closed.

What do these results mean?
Annually, the Superintendent reports results on meeting board priorities. One of the board priorities is that every student needs to be reading at grade level by 3rd grade. A third grade reading test (WCRT) is given in the spring of a child's 3rd grade education.

Some reading professionals, District administrators and board members believe that the results presented last week mean that what MMSD is doing is working - just fine, thank you very much. Others believe that the District needs to look more closely at alternative reading intervention approaches or even different core curriculum approaches for the 20% of the student population who are not proficient and advanced readers and are mostly low income students.

Reading the press on the various positions, you wonder if there is any common ground among the disperate views. I believe there is common ground - each and every teacher/administrator wants each child to be a successful reader. Without a solid reading foundation, a child will find it difficult to learn more, falling further and further behind over time.

How Can the Board Decide What Steps Need to be Taken next?
Board members are not reading experts. Yet, if you look at the District's materials and you look at DPI's discussion of a reading framework in its Reading First grant proposal, one comes away with the impression that there are reading professionals who have come to very different conclusions all the while using SBRR (scientific based reading research).

Board members can ask a series of questions that will provide them with the informationnecessay to make decisions that are in the best interest of the student. Examples of questions to ask include:

What's working/not working for different socio-economic groups?

What do teachers say about the current curriculum's ability to reach the 20% who are not proficient and advanced? What do teachers need to be more effective? Do teachers feel they have a choice in how children are taught to read?

What have we learned from the data about two talked about intervention strategies - direct instruction and reading recovery?

Over the past 6 years or so, there have been signficant strides made in reading at a third grade level in third grade. Curricula used and teacher experience are important variables to this success,but over this time we've also seen more SAGE classes instituted and the Schools of Hope that provides volunteers to help with teaching reading. Where we have SAGE and Schools of Hope in place, what have we seen with the reading results.

Why did Madison turn away Reading First grant money? The reasons given by the Superintendent are incomplete. Saying Reading First is too scripted is not entirely accurate and is an oversimplification of the State's approach to Reading First. When reading the grant submitted to the Department of Education from the WI DPI, the approach they describe appears to be developed and woven into WI's standards of academic excellence.

Board members need to know what's working for our kids in a more successful manner than what DPI's model is.

Posted by at December 12, 2004 10:06 PM
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