Although Carroll schools have some of the highest reading scores on statewide tests, some children are starting school lacking the most basic reading skills required to become proficient readers.
Using money from a federal grant awarded to Carroll schools in January, teachers have begun a systemwide effort to prevent at-risk readers from falling behind in critical learning years.
Teachers have identified beginning readers who need extra help and have provided those students with one-on-one tutors. This summer, reading teachers will develop a comprehensive reading intervention program to be used next school year.
"Our reading specialists have always tried to give support to struggling readers, but it was real tough to give kids one-on-one help," said Dorothy Mangle, director of elementary schools.
"Our largest school [Carrolltowne] has more than 900 kids and one [reading] specialist. What this grant has enabled us to do is provide more one-on-one intensive intervention."
Carroll schools received the $250,000 Advancing Early Literacy grant in January as part of the federal Goals 2000 initiative.
The state Department of Education, which administers the grants, funded similar literacy projects in five other school systems.
Mangle said she applied for the competitive grant because of the increasing number of children entering school with poor oral language skills.
There are two categories of beginning readers, Mangle said. One group has been exposed to books and a broad vocabulary since the toddler years, and the second group has not.
Indicators of early reading problems in kindergarten include an inability to rhyme words and grasp the concept that letters in the alphabet stand for different sounds.
If students leave first grade without having established early literacy skills, Mangle said, they'll always be playing catch-up.
"In order for them to advance, the research says they have to have a fundamental understanding of oral language skills," Mangle said.
"A good predictor of kids making good progress in literacy is knowing letters are important, and investing enough interest to know their names. To another child, an 'A' is no different than a '2.' "
Carroll reading teachers began to put the early literacy grant money to use in January and February by conducting reading assessments on all 4,035 students in kindergarten and first grade.
In March, elementary schools began hiring tutors to work individually, for 15 to 20 minutes a day, with the 1,076 students who tested in the lowest 25 percent of the group. Tutors tailored intervention activities to each student's needs.
Testing on progress
"Does this child need to work on learning letters of the alphabet, or does this child need to be immersed in a lot more literature?" Mangle said.
Students receiving tutoring will be tested again before the end of this school year to determine their progress. During the summer, teachers will use that information to select the most effective intervention techniques for next school year.
Teachers will also have the chance to participate in a workshop on encouraging early literacy, Mangle said.
Another important component of the early literacy grant is encouraging parental involvement in early reading education, Mangle said.
"Parents have a tendency to think that they have to do something great and sophisticated" to help their children in learning to read, she said.
"We're saying, 'No, the best help you can give your child is to read to them.'
"Just taking a child to the grocery store and naming the things you're putting in the cart is a plus," she said.
At the beginning of the next school year, kindergarten and first-grade classes will be tested to identify the lowest-performing reading students. Reading teachers will provide daily tutoring to those children for the entire school year.
The early literacy grant expires in June 1999, but could be renewed if participating students show progress.
Mangle is especially interested to see if next school year's second-graders who received extra reading help have better scores on the state Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills than this year's second-graders who didn't have the benefit of the tutoring.
"We want to say that those identified children improved their performance and no longer fall within the bottom 25 percent," Mangle said.
Pub Date: 5/19/98