The third key transition point Summit Education Initiative (SEI) focuses on is third grade. By third grade, SEI wants kids reading on grade level.
In the past few years, this has coincided with Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee. In Spring of 2012, the Ohio Legislature passed an education policy bill which included the guarantee. The bill requires 3rd graders to meet a minimum score on the state reading test to move on to the 4th grade reading instruction.
The first test is given in October and the students are able to retake the test in the Spring.
Lisa Lenhart is the director of Center for Literacy at the University of Akron. She also co-chairs SEI Third Grading Reading Team. She said people have long seen third grade as a turning point in education.
“There’s always been this old phrase that ‘Up until third grade you learn how to read and after, you read to learn” and that’s not true,” Lenhart said. “We read to learn from the very beginning, but third grade is the time when you start moving into the content areas more and more, and reading informational texts. You need to be a strong reader by that point.”
Up until third grade, kids often get 90 to 100 minutes of reading instruction a day, she said. After third grade, the reading instruction time goes down significantly. This makes it important to be on track by this point.
“If they can’t read, they can’t read informational text, they can’t read their social studies book, it affects, everything. Reading is the root of all of it.”
Improved Professional Development
The Third Grade Reading Guarantee not only created new standards for students, but also for teachers. Third grade teachers must now be certified as Highly Qualified.
Lenhart said teachers can become Highly Qualified by receiving a reading endorsement or completing a test called the PRAXIS.
The Center for Literacy works allows teachers to become qualified both ways. Lenhart said the center offers an eight-week course to prepare teachers for the Praxis exam. They also offer reading endorsement classes at the university.
“Akron Public [Schools] had about 75 third grade teachers and they all had to be highly qualified,” Lenhart said.
Akron’s teachers did all became qualified. Lenhart said they still offer the courses for incoming teachers and other teachers who would like to add the qualifications.
The Center also provides literacy coaches so teachers can continue to hone their skills in the classroom.
“[The coaches] provide professional development for them, but also work alongside them and model lessons and model strategies,” Lenhart said.
Grants from the Martha Holden Jenning Foundation make it possible to provide these services at no cost in Twinsburg. The GAR Foundation will also begin to fund the program in Springfield.
The Importance of Parents
“Teaching someone to read is very difficult,” Lenhart said. “We are wired for language, but our brain is not necessarily wired to read.”
She said interaction with language early on is the key to creating good readers.
“For me, for my kids, it came pretty easily, because from birth I was reading to them, exposing them, giving my kids experiences, showing them things, talking to them,” she said.
However, not everyone gets this attention growing up, so learning language is harder for them.
She said reading to children is important even in the infant years. She encourages her friends to read their babies books that deal with rhyming, rhythm, ABCs, and poetry. She suggests that parents and kids read together 15 to 20 minutes a night.
Akron Public Schools: Progress despite Challenges
When kids are behind, teachers intervene. Christy Becknell-Brown leads K-12 literary intervention at Akron Public schools. She said that the school has changed the way they work with kids who are struggling.
“It used to be – not only in Akron but across the country – in isolation, where they would go possibly down the hallway and work on discrete skills” Bechnell-Brown said. “No longer is that the way it is in Akron.”
Now, interventionists work with the main teacher to help them understand what the individual students are struggling with and support is offered in conjunction with the current lesson.
When students get really behind, they receive even more literacy instruction through either a core teacher, a tutor or a special education teacher. Becknell-Brown said they try to look at the situation like a doctor by diagnosing the issue and prescribing a solution to help the student.
Outside of the school day, Akron has a number of programs to help kids improve their skills, said Desiree Bolden, manager of extended learning.
One program is Akron Reads, where business people come in to help children learn to read and mentor them. Another is Akron Afterschool, which brings tutors with a number of issues the children might be having, including literacy issues.
One of the events they are having is a technology and literacy camp, sponsored by the LeBron James Family Foundation.
“They come to us in the afternoon for two weeks to get a start on the school year,” Bolden said.
They also have a Third Grade Reading Academy during the summer, Mary Outley-Kelly said. They select students that are at-risk to repeat Third Grade and allow them one last chance at taking the Third Grade assessment.
This year, they had just four third-graders at risk for repeating the grade out of over 1,000 third graders.
JumpStart for School is another pre-fall program for kids entering First, Second and Third Grade who have struggled. The goal is for them to gain back some of the learning they may have lost during the summer.
“We try to give them a boost for the summer before they start back on the regular school year calendar.
This combination of programs have led to good scores for the district. 98.7 percent of their students were allowed to advance to the next grade in the 2013-2014 school year, making them the top metropolitan district in Ohio.
“We would like to be the number one urban school district in the United States,” Toan Dang-Nguyen said. “That’s our goal.”
If people want to help keep these scores high, Akron Reads is always looking for volunteers.
“We are always looking for community stakeholders that are willing to give up their time and sit with our students,” Outley-Kelly said. “Before school they can come and read with a child, during lunch, after school.”
They work to get parents to provide the best education they can despite the issues many of their families face.
“Many of our families may struggle with various issues, but we’re a team.,” Outley-Kelly said. “We know that all parents want what’s best for their children and it’s about how do we work together to be successful.”
Hudson: Success with Strong Support from Families and the Community
Doreen Osmun, assistant superintendent of Hudson City Schools, says her district focuses on creating foundations in Kindergarten to serve kids throughout their schooling.
She says teachers are constantly taking notes then design lessons based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses. They focus on a workshopping model in their classrooms.
Osmun said they try to incorporate writing early, since there is a strong correlation between reading a writing.
Teacher strongly encourage the recommended 15 to 20 minutes of reading a night. Osmun said they also encourage the reading of a variety of texts.
Osmun said that while it depends on the family, Hudson’s students come to school with a lot of literacy-rich experiences.
“Our Hudson Library has an amazing children’s section and they have amazing children’s programming. We see kids at the library all the time.”
Parents volunteer to come in and read aloud in elementary classrooms.
“It’s a really a perfect storm. Our kids come in and they’re ready to learn, they’re ready to read. They have books at home, our classroom libraries are really strong. Our parents are dedicated. Our teachers are highly, highly trained.”
This year, they hired a literacy coordinator to collaborate with teachers in K-3. She studies strategies, models lesson, gives teachers feedback and evaluates how teachers are planning lessons.
“Our kids are really prepared. They’re prepared and ready to learn when they come to school because of their parents. Learning is just an expectation.”
SEI is working to make learning an expectation for every student in Summit County!
To learn more about SEI go to: www.seisummit.org/