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'Big Dividends' State Schools Making Strides in Reading

Ohanian Comment: Is the writer embarrassed to put a name to this piece of trash?

Train 'em to read Dibels and then they'll be able to read more Dibels.

See Dick.

See Jane.

See Dick and Jane read.

See Dick, Jane and a whole lot of other Alabama public school students in grades K-3 improving their reading abilities. Last week, the state Department of Education released scores for what is known as the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills reading assessment.

Cut through the jargon, and the news is almost all good. The overall percentage of K-3 students reading at grade level went from 49 percent in fall 2003 to 63 percent in spring 2004. Mountain Brook led the state with 93 percent of students at grade level, while Vestavia Hills and Homewood schools ranked in the top eight. Every system but four (Talladega City, Clarke County, Lanett City and Escambia County) posted gains.

The results show that increased focus and attention brought by programs such as the Alabama Reading Initiative and Alabama Reading First are paying dividends. That's especially true in some traditionally low-performing systems with large percentages of poor students.

Systems in Wilcox and Montgomery counties posted the state's largest gains from fall to spring. Both gained 31 percentage points of readers at grade level; 68 percent of Montgomery's K-3 students and 64 percent of Wilcox's were reading at grade level by spring. Closer to home, Fairfield schools ranked seventh best in the gain in percent of students at benchmark, from 36 to 61 percent.

In Montgomery, "every school received a reading coach, a research-based textbook, extensive professional development and increased central office support," wrote state Superintendent Joe Morton in a memo to county and city superintendents. "It was a similar story in Wilcox County where one Reading First school and three ARI schools increased the intensity of their early reading instruction."

We know what works and, fortunately, the Legislature finally has bought in to funding what works. This spring, it dedicated $40 million to the Reading Initiative - an increase of $27.5 million - for fiscal year 2005, which starts Oct. 1. The influx of money will pay for the Reading Initiative in all K-3 schools by 2006.

Last week's reading scores foretell the worth of that investment. They also suggest the state will see improvements in future Stanford Achievement Test results.

"The DIBELS data are of utmost importance because they point to what matters most for teaching students to read and because they predict performance on the high-stakes Stanford 10," Morton wrote.

DIBELS testing also allows teachers to intervene during the year to help students who are struggling, rather than not learning until August following the school year the results of the Stanford 10 test.

Morton says DIBELS is a valuable instructional tool. It also could prove to be a valuable lobbying tool. DIBELS scores in January 2005 "will be the most valuable information we have to inform the Legislature that its investment in the Alabama Reading Initiative is a sound investment," he wrote superintendents.

Just as long as Dick and Jane and other kindergartners through third-graders keep improving their reading skills.



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