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NCLB Outrages

School District Vows to Intensify Efforts After FCAT

Ohanian Comment: To write a book on teaching and learning vocabulary, The Great Word Catalogue: FUNdamental Activities for Building Vocabulary, I did a LOT of research on vocabulary acquision--in addition to my own classroom practice.

Research shows that requiring kids to learn weekly lists of vocabulary words is a very inefficient, nonproductive, punitive way to approach vocabulary acquisiton. There are LOTS of better ways. Buy my book.

And instead of blaming principals and teachers, maybe Mr. Johnson should try looking in the mirror.

At Palm Beach Central in Wellington, even math and science classes will learn weekly lists of vocabulary words.

At Boca Raton High, the lowest-performing students will be placed in back-to-back classes of intensive reading and English I.

"Same students, same teachers and 20 students per class, so they can really concentrate on diagnosing and correcting the deficiencies," Principal Geoff McKee said.

The days of assuming that county high school students can read are over.

This year's underwhelming high school reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test leave the district no choice but to immediately emphasize reading in the upper grades. Five of the district's 23 high schools earned a D grade on the state's scoring system, the worst showing in four years. Only two high schools fulfilled "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind law, which has more rigid requirements.

To raise achievement, the district has pledged to incorporate various programs, such as middle school reading coaches, and continue an intensive reading program in kindergarten through second grade at high-poverty schools. But that will take time.

"If you don't catch youngsters when they are in the elementary years and teach them how to read, by the time they get to the secondary level it's just a real challenge, and it's a stubborn challenge," Superintendent Art Johnson said at a Monday news conference.

Johnson did not announce any additional plans Monday, but he called for more training of high school principals and teachers to better emphasize reading and to counter "institutional resistance."

"In the elementary level, the teacher recognizes that teaching reading is just part of the curriculum. In the high school level, teachers tend to teach their subject and not the process skill of reading," Johnson said. "As a system, we have not reached the point where a math teacher, the English teacher, the science teacher are all teaching reading."

Central High Principal Ian Saltzman said he already makes vocabulary exercises mandatory in all class subjects and will continue next school year. He rattled off words such as "evaluate and expression" for math, "hypothesis" for science, and "absolute location" for social studies. "We have to focus on reading," Saltzman said.

Johnson said another option at his disposal is removing principals and teachers from the perennial D-rated schools. "The two most important aspects in the success of a school are the leadership of the principal and the quality of the teacher," he said. "If I have a school in which the grade and [adequate yearly progress] gain has been stubborn, and people believe that our programs are working, then I have no alternative but to look at change in personnel."

Principal Nathan Collins of Palm Beach Lakes High, which received a D grade this year and a C grade in 2003, says he is determined to pull up his campus. He said reading would be emphasized across the curriculum. "We are heading in that direction big time," he said.

Marc Freeman can be reached at mjfreeman@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6642.
hat NCLB is pushing

— Marc Freeman


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