New Reading Programs

Published 4:59 pm Thursday, May 12, 2011

CUMBERLAND – Cumberland Elementary School's frustrating relationship with its reading program has come to an end and a brighter future is ahead for the upcoming school year.

According to Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin, a yearlong reading curriculum research and review committee has chosen two different new language arts programs that fit the needs of the students in different grade levels at the Elementary School.

The new Superintendent put together the committee and they quickly got to work researching new curriculum in search of a way to improve Cumberland Elementary's reading scores and find a way to renew and restore the students' overall love for reading.

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The school's current reading program, Reading Mastery Plus and Corrective Reading had been utilized by the school for eight years and although it had raised reading levels and SOL scores during the years of implementation, third grade SOL scores were remaining at 80 percent while other schools with similar demographics were excelling with 90 percent, Dr. Griffin explained during the School Board meeting on Monday evening.

“It was also determined that struggling readers continued to struggle in reading without exposure to necessary skills to be successful on SOL assessments while promoting the love for reading and learning,” said Dr. Griffin. “…After tracking the students from kindergarten to fifth grade, it was also noted that the same group of struggling readers continued to struggle and due to the nature of the program were not getting the necessary instruction to be successful on the SOL assessments.”

The committee was made up of 12 teachers and the Elementary School's principal, Bernice Ford, and Marty Gilchrist, the school's assistant principal and reading coordinator-all of whom coordinated and met with the Superintendent throughout the year in order to come up with the best solution for the school.

All of the research pointed to two programs.

For grades kindergarten through second grade, the teachers will be utilizing Saxon Phonics and Journey's for grades three through five, Dr. Griffin noted. The programs will be utilized in two-hour language arts blocks.

During the two hours reading and writing will be incorporated so that the time will be more comprehensive and where remediation/enrichment time can also be included in any content area that the student needs.

Fifth grade teacher Diane O'Bryant, who also sits on the committee, spoke to the School Board and said, “I've been teaching for a long time and so it takes a lot to get me excited sometimes.”

“It's more of a language arts program,” said Ms. O'Bryant about the Journey's program that will be implemented next year. “It builds better readers and writers and this carries through the stories where vocabulary is introduced and taught in context. And there is also a strong spelling and grammar component, which will allow us to teach writing consistently within the grade level…”

There are also units that “motivate kids to read,” she advised.

And the students will also be able to utilize grade level magazines and trade books.

“They will actually have a book in hand,” she said. “Every child will have a book to read and not feel like they aren't on level with the others.”

Later in the research process, the committee also looked at schools with the same demographics as Cumberland.

“Each person on the committee took a group of schools and they called and either talked with the principal or the reading specialist or a reading teacher and we had questions that they asked them by phone or by email,” explained Dr. Griffin. “After we looked, we came back and met and reviewed that and then we went out and visited schools to see the implementation. They came back all excited with all of these ideas.”

After that process, the data was narrowed down to reading materials that the committee wanted to review.

“I was dreading that they were all going to want something different,” explained Dr. Griffin about the two programs that were decided upon. “But when we got back together it came down to two things.”

Sandy East, a kindergarten teacher who works on the committee, addressed the Board about the decision for this age group to begin working with the Saxon Phonics because of its ability to build upon things such as handwriting, spelling, and alphabetizing.

“Things that, right now, our program does not incorporate,” noted Ms. East, “so we can be more aligned with the daily SOL prep.”

“It also allows flexibility to allow teachers to be able to pull in optional activities…,” she continued.

The School Board later thanked the committee for doing a lot of the research work.

“This was not a small undertaking so thank you,” said School Board member Ginger Sanderson. “I applaud you for all of your hard work to come…”

Dr. Griffin concluded that the new programs would offer the teachers more flexibility.

“They've been dealing with a very tight script,” she said about the previous program. “When they go to this, we're going to be all organized, but they are going to feel a little loose and that is going to be natural. We're ready for the task and it's very exciting.”