Program designed to boost reading skills

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By Tracy Harris

More than 40 Oldham County teachers hit the books Friday as part of the district’s new Reading Academy.

The two-semester program was designed in conjunction with Bellarmine University and will improve teacher understanding and capabilities in reading instruction, said Amy Grimm, the district’s intervention coach.

Grimm’s focus is on improving reading skills across the district through the new academy and other programs.

Teachers will attend a graduate-level course for 2.5 hours each week and receive mentoring and coaching. 

Grimm said the academy will help teachers implement effective intervention processes at each school.

The academy is an outgrowth of the district’s reading task force, and part of an effort to have every student read at grade level by the end of third grade.

Bob and Kathy Cooter, Bellarmine University professors and renowned literacy experts, worked with the district to design the academy.

Bob is the dean of Bellarmine’s school of education and is the author of more than 20 reading education books.

Kathy is an early childhood and special education professor with more than 20 years of teaching experience.

The Cooters developed successful similar programs in Dallas and Memphis.

In Memphis, the number of reading-proficient students increased 15 percent after the first year. 

Cooter said his model for teacher development involves “deep training” — academy teachers will receive more than 90 hours of instruction and six hours of graduate-course credit.

This year focuses on kindergarten through third grade teachers. Next year, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers join, with secondary teachers in the third year.

According to Grimm, first graders have the highest percentage of struggling readers across the district, making early intervention crucial.

Last year, nearly 11 percent of Oldham County first graders were identified as needing additional help to bring their reading skills to grade-level, she said.

According to 2010-11 school year data from the Kentucky Department of Education, four of the district’s 10 elementary schools failed to meet the state’s goal of 80.23 percent of tested students scoring a proficient or distinguished in reading.

Crestwood Elementary had the lowest percentage, with 76.84 percent of all students receiving a proficient or distinguished. 

Centerfield (79.55 percent), La Grange (79.85 percent) and Liberty (79.5 percent) also scored below the goal level. 

Those tests evaluated third through fifth graders. Data from the 2011-12 school year is not available.

The academy is free for teachers and slots in the program were distributed between the 10 elementary schools. 

Superintendent Will Wells believes the academy will help the district meet its reading goals.

“The academy will equip these teachers with expert knowledge in reading instruction and intervention,” he said. 

While the reading academy focuses on teacher development, the district also has the Reading Recovery program to provide one-on-one support to struggling students.

Each elementary school has a Reading Recovery teacher who works with students in 12-week sessions.

“Nationally, this program receives the highest rating for effectiveness,” Wells said, adding that teachers receive continued instruction on small-group intervention during the program’s second year.

During the 2010 school year, 64 percent of Reading Recovery students in Kentucky improved reading skills to average within 20 weeks.

Data for Oldham students participating in Reading Recovery’s first year showed 95 percent reaching their goal at the school year’s midway point.

Reading Recovery targets five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.

Progress is tracked daily as students read a “progress book” — typically a book read by the student for the first time the previous day. Instructors note the number of missed words and other errors and use a rubric to score the session.

Grimm said the district is currently training five additional Reading Recovery teachers — three in the special education department and two in the English language learners department.

Oldham County schools also have literacy coaches in each school, Grimm said, who not only coach teachers, but are also involved with curriculum development and leading district literacy initiatives.