A recent push for reading proficiency by Gov. Sam Brownback has been met with skepticism by some local educators.
In his State of the State address earlier this week, the governor proposed the Kansas Reads to Succeed initiative with three components.
It would first provide $12 million to support programs to aid struggling readers. Second, it would provide incentives for schools that successfully increased fourth-grade reading scores. Last, it would require third-graders to demonstrate a reading ability before advancing to fourth grade.
“A goal of my administration is to ensure each of the 40,000 kindergartners is able to read proficiently by the time they reach fourth-grade,” he said. “Passing children up the grade ladder when we know they can’t read is irresponsible — and cruel.”
Brian Peters, fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, said he doesn’t necessarily agree.
“A lot of research has demonstrated a negative impact on students,” he said, citing emotional strain as one. “It creates a fear in students.”
This is true especially if reading is the only area where they are behind, he said.
“Not all kids learn at the same level. That student could be on grade level in math, in science, and all the other subjects, but they’re reading is down, and they basically don’t get any new exposure to learn in other content areas,” he said. “To me, that’s really troublesome.”
Peters also said it also is possible students may not be able to advance for two or more years in a row.
“Where does it stop, and where do we loose focus on the individual student,” he said. “I really hope that before they make any kind of decision they look at the research and see how it affects students.”
In his five years in the district, he said he has seen students who struggle with reading catch up during the year with the help of a multi-tiered system with small group instruction.
“Our district has done a pretty good job of providing extra support for our students,” he said. “What our district already has in place is a really good system.”
Rather than focusing on third and fourth grade, McPherson Director of Instruction Angie McDonald said the focus of reading proficiency should be on toddlers and early elementary students.
“By fourth grade, we’re trying to catch up kids, and it’s really hard to do,” she said. “It’s doable, but it’s really hard. If we catch them up as little guys, we have a much better chance of making sure we don’t have that gap to begin with.
Page 2 of 2 - The $12 million in Brownback’s proposal, she said, should go toward programs for children as young as possible.
“My suggestion would be to put the money lower,” she said. “The earlier we close the gap the better.”
McDonald also said some of the data Brownback used in his speech was misleading. The governor said “29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level.”
This percentage is based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test that takes a random sample of students, whose district is not notified of final results. McDonald said this random sample does not present comparable data, as not all students in Kansas take the test.
McDonald said McPherson already is implementing much of what Brownback’s goals aspire to do.
“Since we’re all making that change anyway (to Kansas College and Career standards) I think it doesn't change anything we’re going to do,” McDonald said, unless more money would go toward younger grades. “We know already we need to get our kids reading before that time period at grade level. Every teacher already feels that burden, and they are working to make it happen for kids.”
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