President’s Corner

Reading Success Where No Child Slips By

by Don W. Hooper

 If American public schools do nothing else, we must get reading right. Our democracy depends on an educated populace.

School systems cannot accomplish this important work without a thoroughly researched, carefully implemented and comprehensively evaluated plan. At the risk of sharing too much about my own school district, I would like to discuss our plan for getting reading right.

The Fort Bend Independent School District adopted a kindergarten through grade 3 literacy plan to ensure all students are reading at grade level or better by the end of 3rd grade. A team of staff members has steered the K-3 Literacy Project, the results of which are evident in literacy standards, systematic benchmarking and reporting of student progress, prescriptive staff development, instructional strategies, resources, interventions and parent/community involvement.

The team defined literacy as being able to apply reading, writing, thinking, speaking and listening skills as necessary to function successfully in one’s group, community and larger society. Their vision was this: Every child in Fort Bend will read at grade level or above by the end of grade 3. The principles guiding the K-3 Literacy Plan included:

* Comprehensive and effective literacy plans are based on research and best practices and evaluated periodically for refinement.

* Children will learn to read given appropriate instruction at the appropriate time, in appropriate ways.

* Ongoing, focused training of teachers and administrators is essential for effective literacy instruction.

We developed quality assessments that identify student progress at the level of the individual student. The classroom teacher administers these valid and reliable assessments to diagnose reading ability and thus drive instruction. The K-3 Literacy Plan provides a safety net to ensure struggling readers are caught at the primary grades. The plan drives the staffing, materials, staff development and changes in the curriculum based on student performance.

Students are checked frequently and with a multitude of diagnostic instruments to make certain no child slips through the cracks. All students are assessed, including those in special education and bilingual and English-as-a-second-language programs. We are serious about our students’ literacy success and proudly point to the following evidence:

* We have established K-3 literacy standards, benchmarks to measure student progress toward meeting those standards and a tracking system for individual student data.

* We have developed and implemented K-3 Literacy Staff Development as a part of the overall K-3 Literacy Plan.

* We have students at all grade levels experiencing developmental growth and making strong progress toward our goal of becoming successful readers and writers. By diagnosing areas not yet mastered, we can deliver instruction at the appropriate level and duration to achieve mastery.

A comparison of our students’ reading performance on the 1995 and 2001 versions of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills suggests our K-3 Literacy Plan is having the desired effect. Overall, 92.7 percent of Fort Bend students passed the reading portion last year, a gain of 10 points compared to six years ago. In addition, disaggregated data show major reading gains by African-American (67.6 to 88.1 percent passing, just short of exemplary status), Hispanic (69.3 to 85.4 percent passing), and economically disadvantaged students (67.6 to 83 percent passing).

The children in my district are readers due to the efforts of a dedicated team of professional educators faithfully implementing a carefully researched plan.

Each of us as a school leader is responsible for designing and implementing systems for student success. There are many ways to do this. Success comes through the design and delivery of a well-planned, well-executed, disciplined approach. Excellence is always intentional, never by accident.

Don Hooper is president of AASA.