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Young readers to get help before falling far behind Tutors: A federal grant provides testing to identify kindergartners and first-graders who need help and pays for one-on-one tutoring.


As Carroll County schools begin the second year of a system-wide initiative to help struggling beginning readers, teachers are finding that a greater number of students will need extra help.

"I'm hearing the numbers are so high and so many kids are entering kindergarten not having those pre-reading skills," said Dorothy D. Mangle, Carroll's assistant superintendent for instruction.

"It mirrors what you're seeing on a national level," said Mangle. "For whatever reason, the very young children do not hear the sounds and can't break a word down into separate sounds. They seem to be missing that oral language experience."

Preventing those at risk from falling behind in critical learning years is the goal of a $250,000 Advancing Early Literacy federal grant awarded to Carroll schools in January.

The grant allowed elementary schools to administer reading assessment tests in February to all students and hire tutors to work, for 15 to 20 minutes a day, with kindergartners and first-graders who had tested at the lowest levels of ability.

Mangle said early reports indicate that larger numbers of children have problems this year -- in part because the testing is taking place at the beginning of the school year.

Based on the grant funding, there is a limit on the number of children who can take part in the tutoring program. So Mangle said she plans to ask teachers to include in their daily classroom instruction more intervention activities designed to reach the other at-risk children identified in the testing.

Interactive Writing

One of the techniques that teachers found to be particularly effective in last year's tutoring sessions was an instructional method called "Interactive Writing."

Friendship Valley Elementary School began using the technique four years ago with at-risk readers. The successful results persuaded teachers there to use it for all students.

Teachers at Friendship Valley worked with groups of about five children. After the teacher and students read a short story together, each child uses sound-letter associations, alphabet skills and clues from text illustrations to compose sentences related to it.

Students start by breaking a word into its different sounds. Then they use an "alphabet sound card" to match sounds to letters. The card pairs each letter with an illustration -- P and a drawing of a pig, for example -- so students can use the picture to locate a sound, even if they haven't mastered letter and sound relationships.

"The kids are so immersed in all the elements of early reading," Mangle said of Interactive Writing. "They hear the sounds, they see the sounds translate into letters, and use the letters and sounds to construct words."

Sharon Craig, coordinator of continuous school improvement for Integrated Language Arts programs in Carroll schools, said one reason children respond well to Interactive Writing is that all the instruction activities revolve around a story.

"You start off with a book," said Craig, the former reading specialist at Friendship Valley. "It's all connected to a piece of literature."

Advancing Early Literacy

Mangle said the half-hour reading assessments paid for by the Advancing Early Literacy grant were especially helpful to teachers in determing the instructional needs of each child. "We've never before done that intense one-on-one assessment," she said.

Teachers found the assessments revealed strengths and weaknesses in reading abilities that in many cases weren't apparent in the classroom.

For example, some children who were quiet and reticent in class showed well-developed verbal skills during testing. And students who demonstrated good oral language skills in class had other deficiencies.

"Once you have that information, you can make better [teaching] decisions," Mangle said. "Do they need oral language development, vocabulary building? Do they need to spend a lot of time with the structure of language? Do they need to be read to more frequently?"

Hiring tutors

Mangle said she expects schools to begin hiring tutors under the grant program by mid-October, so that children most in need of extra help will have individual tutoring for nearly a school year.

Because the grant was awarded in January and testing continued through the end of February, students in the last school year received only three months of individual tutoring.

The children were tested at the end of the year to measure their progress. According to the results, 58 percent of kindergarten students tutored under the grant program were reading on grade level at the end of the 1997-98 school year. In first grade, 73 percent had met the goal.

"Given the whole year, our hope is that we can have 95 percent [of those tutored] reading on grade level," Mangle said.

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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