In an effort to get students reading on grade level, the city’s school district is launching a $3.9 million reading program for K-5 grades in the 2018-19 school year.
School board members were told of the benefits of the new program on Monday night. Among the benefits are alignment between vocabulary, phonics, and phonics, spelling; multicultural texts to appeal to diverse students; four versions of the same text targeted at students depending on reading level; and availability of reading materials on digital devices, according to Eric Crespo, associate chief academic officer at the Paterson Public Schools.
The program called “Wonders” by McGraw-Hill Education was selected by a committee of district administrators, principals, teachers, and parents to reduce the number of students not reading on grade level.
“As we analyzed the data year after year, we saw some stagnation when it came to students’ ability to be at grade level at the end of the third grade,” said Crespo. “We weren’t reducing the number; we weren’t increasing the number either.”
Crespo said 39-percent of students are not reading at grade level. He said that figure is based on “running records.” He explained “running records” is one-on-one assessment where a teacher tests a student’s fluency and comprehension.
State assessments tell a different story.
The district’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments for 2016-17 school year indicates 79-percent of students in third grade were below proficient in reading, according to Rosie Grant, executive director for the Paterson Education Fund.
19-percent were proficient and just 2-percent above proficient, she said.
“We have a lot of work ahead. We have to change our teaching practice when it comes to reading because 80-percent of kids not reading on grade level is not okay,” said Grant. “Something has to change. If students are not reading on grade level by third grade it puts them at a disadvantage for the rest of their educational career.”
School board member Emanuel Capers wanted to know the district’s expectations around the new program.
“How’s this going to improve our district?” he asked.
“Every year, we’re expecting to reduce the number of students not reading on grade level,” replied Crespo.
“What are your benchmark that you are going to be looking at?” asked longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges.
Crespo said the district will rely on “running records.” The new program will allow the district to track students from kindergarten to see whether they are reading on grade level, said Crespo.
Teachers, support staff, and principals will be trained to fully implement the program in the upcoming school year.
Some school board members wanted to know the source of the district’s failure. However, that was difficult to pin-point. Schools used different programs.
“We don’t know if it’s a core issue or an intervention issue,” said Crespo. Once the new program is implemented, based on data, the district will be able to determine which intervention programs are working.
School principals pick their own intervention programs. Deputy superintendent Susana Peron said there was once 8-10 intervention programs. That has come down to 3.
Every quarter parents will receive letters informing them of their child’s reading level.
The new program is replacing the previous reading program, Comprehension Clubs, said officials. The committee looked at 13 programs. It narrowed it to three. And then picked “Wonders,” said Crespo.
The district originally wanted to buy the program for K-3 grades for $3.4 million. With an additional $500,000, the district was able to get the program for two other grades, 4 and 5.
There’s a four-year payment plan for the program. The district will pay $975,000 per year. The program has a life of six years with digital access and consumable replacement.
School board member Vincent Arrington asked how the new program will be integrated into the district’s one-to-one technology initiative for students.
The texts will be available on digital devices. Students will be able to annotate and highlight on their device.
School officials are hoping the new program, with its different versions (there’s a version for English language learners) of reading texts targeted at students depending on proficiency, will get more students reading on grade level.
“Kids learn to read up until third grade and after that they have to read to learn,” said Grant. “If we fail to teach them to read then they don’t have the capacity to read to learn fourth grade on up.”