Wednesday, December 06, 2000

Reading key part of anti-dropout plan

Hopes are early emphasis will retain more later

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press Writer

        FRANKFORT — State education officials are betting that an emphasis on reading in the early grades will mean fewer dropouts years later.

        It is the premise of a dropout prevention strategy drawn up by the Department of Education and being discussed this week by the Kentucky Board of Education.

        A child who has not learned to read — and read well — during the primary grades is being set up for frustration and failure, the thinking goes.

        “It's a gateway skill,” Lois Adams-Rogers, a deputy superintendent of the department, said Tuesday. “We have to read in everything we do.”

        Kentucky's school dropout rate was about 5 percent, translating to more than 9,300 students, in 1998-99.

        Among all young adults 16 to 24, about one in eight is a dropout, according to department figures.

        The General Assembly this year ordered the department to devise a statewide dropout prevention strategy.

        One of its features will be a “reading summit” with school districts and universities in May.

        The department also plans a yearlong reading promotion campaign that focuses on parents as “first teachers” of their children.

        The idea is to educate parents about what to look for in kindergarten and early-grade reading instruction and what to ask teachers, principals and school boards.

        At the same time, schools will be expected to help older students who read poorly — “the wave that's already washed on shore,” Ms. Adams-Rogers said.

        Bill Weinberg, a state board member from Hindman, said he wants to be shown precisely how the department's plans and data collection will be used to help students.

        Mr. Weinberg cited Prestonsburg High School as an example of data not being used effectively.

        With an accelerated-reader program, school officials knew the reading proficiency level of every student, some of whom were as low as second grade, Mr. Weinberg said.

        So, those students were given second-grade reading material.

        “That's not going to help a kid to have him reading something at his level,” Mr. Weinberg said.

        Ms. Adams-Rogers, in an interview, said students who read at low levels have to be brought along methodically.


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