Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Florida's Chief Reading Officer Makes DIBELS Announcement

Comment: Ominous phrase of the season for Florida children in grades K-3: improve the strength of instruction and practice in phonics.

What qualifies one to become the chief reading officer of Florida? A profile in Rhodes Magazine provides a clue. Mary Laura Openshaw, Director Just Read Florida has a BA in history from Rhodes College (1990) and an MA in history from Mississippi College. She taught history in Mississippi and Dallas, Texas and then became a grant coordinator for the William T. Grant Foundation. For the profile in Rhodes Magazine, Openshaw declares herself "an innumerate, and she avoids numbers wherever possible." She recounts what a disaster she was tutoring math at an elementary school, adding that another teaching experience was more positive. She was active in her sorority, Kappa Delta, and served as the pledge trainer, a job that involved no numbers. “I really enjoyed that,” she says. “They were excited about learning.”

According to this profile, in public, the governor calls her 'the chief reading officer of our state.' During staff and policy meetings, he calls her 'M-Lo.'

The Letter


John L. Winn, Commissioner of Education

T. WILLARD FAIR, Vice Chairman

Just Read, Florida!

TO: Superintendents

FROM: Mary Laura Openshaw
Director, Just Read, Florida!

RE: State-wide outcomes on DIBELS measures and their implications for instruction for Reading First Schools

DATE: September 16, 2005

As you all know, schools participating in Reading First throughout Florida are required to administer measures of critical early reading skills four times a year during kindergarten through third grade. These Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assess phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, phonemic decoding skill, and oral reading fluency. These tests help identify students who are struggling in learning to read so they can be provided the additional instruction they need to meet grade level benchmarks.

In this brief summary, we want to highlight several important findings about student performance on the DIBELS measures that may be useful to you in planning professional development and support for your schools in the coming year. The table below shows, for each grade level, the percent of students who met or exceeded combined performance benchmarks on the DIBELS measures at the beginning of the year as compared to the end of the year.

Grade Kdg 1st Grade 2nd Grade 3rd Grade

Beginning of year 39% 75% 65% 38%
End of year 67% 52% 48% 39%

As you can see from this table, Kindergarten instruction was effective in increasing the number of students achieving grade level benchmarks on the DIBELS tests during the year, but many students “lost ground” in terms of maintaining grade level skills in first and second grade. In third grade, the percent of students meeting grade level benchmarks remained the same from the beginning to the end of the year, but only 38% began third grade meeting grade level benchmarks in Oral Reading Fluency (ORF).

The most obvious conclusion from the data is that we need to make a special effort this coming year to strengthen instruction in first and second grades. In first grade, less than 50% of our students are meeting the February benchmark on our measure of phonemic decoding efficiency-nonsense word fluency (NWF). This suggests that we must improve the strength of instruction and practice in phonics extending through first grade, but particularly in the first part of the year. In second grade, our overall average score on Oral Reading Fluency actually declined from the 53rd to the 37th percentile when compared to national norms. Observations of instruction during our site visits to Reading First schools indicated that not enough time was being spent in research-based activities to increase reading fluency in either first or second grade. The Reading First Professional Development Coordinators will be providing professional development and support to schools this year to strengthen instruction in first and second grade, and we hope you will call on them to provide direct assistance to you in this effort. We must increase the numbers of students who enter third grade with accurate and fluent word-level reading skills so that 3rd grade teachers can effectively focus their work on the higher level thinking and comprehension skills that are required to meet grade level standards on the FCAT.

On a very positive note, our analyses of the DIBELS data also show that second year Reading First schools improved their performance considerably from the first year to the second year of implementation. For example, the percent of students achieving the combined benchmark for grade level performance in kindergarten increased from 55% in 03-04 to 67% in 04-05. In first grade, the increase was from 40 to 52%, and second grade increased from 38% to 48%. In third grade, the percent of students meeting the grade level standard for Oral Reading Fluency at the end of the year declined from 42% in the first year of implementation to 39% in the second year of implementation. For the state as a whole, there was no growth in Oral Reading Fluency from the third assessment (administered about the time the FCAT was taken) to the last assessment in May, which suggests that there was probably much less reading instruction taking place during the period from March to May than during the rest of the year.

We are concerned that far too many students in our Reading First schools continue to struggle on the FCAT in third grade because they have not yet become accurate and fluent readers. We are asking you to pay particular attention this year to improving reading instruction in 1st and 2nd grade as a means of insuring that more students will enter third grade with strong basic reading skills. This will allow an even more effective focus in third grade on the higher level reading and thinking skills that are such an important part of being a proficient reader by the end of third grade.

We appreciate all you are doing in our state-wide effort to ensure that all students acquire the strong reading skills they need to be successful as they move to upper elementary, middle, and high school. If you have any questions please feel free to contact Cari Miller, Director of Elementary Reading at the Just Read, Florida! office (850)245-0503.

Cc: District Reading First Contacts
K12 Reading Contacts
Reading First Principals
Reading First Professional Development Coordinators
Reading First Reading Coaches

— Mary Laura Openshaw


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.