Friday, December 20, 2002

It's fundamental

Low reading scores demand extra attention


Fourth-graders in Cincinnati public schools took the state's reading proficiency test in October. Nearly four out of five failed it.

These aren't final results. Ohio's fourth-graders will have two more chances to pass the test before the school year's end.

Ohio's biggest school districts did just as badly. Only 20 percent of students passed in Cleveland, 24 percent in Columbus.

But most school systems didn't do as poorly as Cincinnati's did.

In the Tristate, most districts showed half or more fourth-graders passing. Only North College Hill's 26 percent passing rate and St. Bernard-Elmwood Place's 25 percent rate were close to Cincinnati's.

CPS superintendent Alton Frailey told listeners of the Buzz (WDBZ) Thursday how he reacted to CPS' results. "I was pretty much outraged."

That's a start.

Reading is an essential building block for education. Miss out on it, and you can't learn much of anything else.

We can't allow this many fourth-graders to fall through this crack - or this gaping hole - without doing something to shock the system.

Teaching the teachers

CPS officials say they're on it.

They've launched new training programs for teachers in grades 1 through 3 to equip them with better techniques to get youngsters reading right at earlier ages.

But this training in early reading instruction is not mandatory. CPS is a decentralized school system, with each building run independently.

Nevertheless, many teachers are taking advantage of the courses, said Michael O'Laughlin, CPS' director of curriculum.

I say all of them should get it, ASAP.

But what about today's fourth-grade students? We should be taking radical measures now. We can still catch students with reading troubles, give them extra and more focused instruction, and help them catch up.

CPS may have to change gears and accelerate programs that show signs of working.

Time to read

A few schools, like Hartwell Elementary, have instituted daily, school-wide reading times. For 90 minutes, in every class, every teacher or tutor, even gym and art teachers, are engaged in reading instruction.

Students are grouped according to reading skills, as measured by the proficiency and other tests. And the school has hired six certified teachers to act as full-time tutors during school and for an hour after school two days a week.

But even that's not enough. Only 21 percent of Hartwell's fourth-graders passed the reading test.

Hartwell, on Vine Street, has been teaching reading this way for more than eight years. Even so, 27 percent of its students this year are new to the school.

At least half of them came from so-called "failed schools." Under federal Leave No Child Behind legislation, parents can transfer kids out of failing schools to "achieving" schools like Hartwell.

Hartwell tested these new students in September. All fell below grade level in reading, said Cheryl Jones, the school's reading facilitator.

Parents can be key

Even without the new law, too many families in Cincinnati's public schools move around, causing students to switch schools and further slow academic progress.

Instead, parents can be the key to helping students pass the test.

Parents should call their schools, find out how they performed on the test, and ask school officials what they plan to do about it.

Then parents need to decide what they'll do about it.

E-mail, or phone 768-8395

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