Efforts are underway this summer to increase early literacy to align with legislation that requires all Ohio students be reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
Schoolchildren and parents in Middletown and New Miami are getting a free lesson in reading and writing this summer as part of a federal grant to support the state’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires school districts test students’ reading levels in grades K-3 and place those falling behind on improvement plans.
The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a one-time, $250,000 grant jointly to Middletown City Schools, New Miami Local Schools and Xavier University for a summer reading intervention program.
“The expectations have grown so much in the early literacy component; there’s more of a microscope on it,” said David Gibson, superintendent of New Miami Local Schools.
Gibson said it’s crucial for a student’s success that a school district be able to close the achievement gap between grades 1-3. Gibson said districts across the state are “beefing up” their pre-K to third grade curriculum offers to “get those youngsters caught back up.”
Research shows that children who are not reading at a third grade level by the end of grade three will likely have trouble learning in all classroom subjects in higher grades, according to Ohio Department of Education. As well, children who cannot read well by the third grade are four times as likely to drop out of school, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Beginning July 29, a group of 150 students in grades 1-3 in Middletown will attend a two-week “Reading Ramp” for a total of 20 hours of reading instruction and strategies from a group of 33 teachers at Wildwood Elementary.
The two-week program is being called “Summer Academy” at New Miami, and includes a group of 75 students receiving 30 hours of instruction from 15 teachers.
“Early prevention is always better than intervening later,” said Beth Kirk-Olthoff, a grant and data specialist in Middletown.
At the start of a new school year, districts are required to identify students for a Reading Improvement Monitoring Plan (RIMP) — a state mandate to address each student’s unique reading problems. Schools administer an assessment in grades K-3 by September 30 of each year.
In the 2012-13 school year in Middletown, 773 students in grades K-3 were placed on a reading improvement plan. Within New Miami Local Schools, 176 students had a RIMP during the 2012-13 school year.
The state law requires that students — except those with special circumstances — must meet a minimum score on the state reading test to move on to the fourth grade.
Students received invitations to the summer program based on their reading level and RIMP, officials said. The grant funds will support transportation for all the students; while each district is providing breakfast and a bagged lunch.
The intervention will continue after school for four weeks in September, said Elizabeth Lolli, senior director of elementary instruction in Middletown.
Kim Davidson, curriculum coordinator for New Miami, said the collaborative grant with Middletown came about after the two districts realized their similar needs and high rate of students behind on reading level.
“We felt compatible because we both had a high percentage of students that needed individual intervention,” Davidson said. “The teachers want to see our kids become better readers.”
Kirk-Olthoff said the timing of the after-school program is just before the required state assessments to determine children in need of reading intervention for that year. She’s hopeful the program will help reduce by 10 percent the number of children on a RIMP in the 2013-14 school year.
Officials said there is also a parent component to the summer and after school program. Parents will be invited three times to come into the program to see how their child is performing and learn reading strategies to use at home, Davidson said.
To prep for the summer program, teachers from Middletown and New Miami received 14 hours of training and professional development from Xavier University faculty on reading strategies and informal assessments from the company Fountas & Pinnell and “Basic Reading Inventory” by Jerry L. Johns.
“I’m a support system for new ideas in areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening,” said Sally Barnhart, clinical faculty member in Xavier’s Childhood Education and Literacy department.
At the end of each lesson day, teachers will meet in groups to discuss what worked that day, lesson planning for the next day and how to regroup students based on skill. Faculty from Xavier University will be on-site each day to assist in lesson planning and effective teaching strategies, including guided reading, partner reading between kids and small group instruction focused on skills of vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
“We want to provide these children an opportunity to have success in reading,” Barnhart said. “We’re there to encourage, motivate and provide strategies for their tool belt.”
At the fourth grade level, Gibson said, “You start to see a shift from the mechanics of reading to depth of understanding and ability to comprehend.”