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Dearborn Schools' Reading Programs Show Positive Results

Despite budget cuts, Dearborn Public Schools are doing more to target student illiteracy at all levels through integrated programming.

District educators announced the success of small-group reading instruction at the elementary level and increased reading integration into secondary classes at Monday night’s Dearborn Public Schools .

The district’s new interventionist approach to elementary reading instruction–which aided 456 first-, second- and third-graders during the 2010-2011 school year–contributed to double-digit gains in students’ average Developmental Reading Assessment scores this year, according to district statistics.

DRA is a point system used to gauge reading levels among elementary students. First-graders are typically expected to post scores in the mid-to-high teens, second-graders the mid-to-high 20s and third-graders the mid-to-high 30s.

First-graders in the district’s interventionist program improved an average of 11.8 points on the DRA throughout the year, according to district statistics. Second-graders and third-graders averaged 13.8 and 15.5 points higher, respectively.

The approach–part of the district’s –targets at-risk student readers with small-group instruction for 35 minutes each day, former Associate Superintendent Norma Jean Sass explained. Students are usually in the program for 10 to 16 weeks.

“It is meant to be intensive and short term so that we see them, we use their skill set, we bring them up near grade level and we get them back in the classroom,” Sass said. “We are really making a difference for some of our students.”

Despite the positive results through the program’s first year, its expansion will be difficult, board member Mary Lane said. The district sizable compensation cuts and dozens of layoffs to balance its books.

“Under the budget situation that our country finds itself in, we are not able to give everyone exactly what they need,” Lane said. 

The CAFE/Daily Five initiative is entering its second year, and Dearborn educators will look into how the program–especially its interventionist arm–affects state and national test scores, Sass said.

While the push for better reading starts in elementary schools, it certainly doesn’t end there. Associate Superintendent Dr. Gail Shenkman said the district is working to integrate reading exercises into high school curricula in addition to its interventionist strategy at the lower grade levels.

And given 2011 Michigan Merit Exam and ACT scores, which , following through is more crucial than ever.

The initiative trains six teachers at each district high school–pairs specializing in language arts, biology or U.S. history–to incorporate reading instruction into classes without changing lesson plans. It’s funded entirely with grants from WestEd, a nonprofit educational research institution, easing the district’s fiscal strains.

Although high school diplomas and college educations are becoming increasingly important to enter the workforce, reading proficiency still poses challenges, Shenkman said.

“Reading is complex and changes with the text and the purpose of the reading,” she said, adding that students now read to learn rather than learn to read. 

The high school-level program will continue next year with the district’s 18 trained teachers disseminating the approach throughout their respective schools, Shenkman said.

Despite the district’s financial aches, the battle for literacy is one that needs to be won, Superintendent Brian Whiston said.

“We want to work very hard to get kids to (reading proficiency),” he said. “Literacy is key to everything we do.”

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