Since 2003, a literacy program called Every 1 Reads has been working to get thousands of low-achieving students in Jefferson County reading at grade level. But last week, a state-wide test showed a drop in reading scores in the district. So, is the program working? WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.
Lue Peabody is baffled. Perplexed? Puzzled? Call it what you will, but the director of literacy for the Jefferson County Public Schools is scratching her head over the results from the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS. They show that Jefferson County Public School students scored two points lower on reading than last year.
“We really have to drill down to find out where the drop occurred,” Peabody says. “Was it in one school? Was it in a group of schools? Was it with one subgroup population?”
Peabody says those populations could include groups of immigrant students or those in special education. These groups often have limited English skills and can reduce score averages. Instead of seeing the CATS results as a setback for the district’s Every 1 Reads program, Peabody says the results give educators data to identify and help low-achieving readers.
Every 1 Reads set out to improve the reading skills of nearly 19 percent of the district’s students identified as low-achieving — from kindergarten to high school. It costs $40 million dollars. Greater Louisville Inc. has raised $8 million and the district is raising the rest. Today, 9 percent of students read below grade level.
Literacy experts say students need literacy programs like these to prepare them for work and for living in the modern world. Timothy Shanahan is Director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“What has changed isn’t how literate our kids are but how literate they need to be,” Shanahan says. “The society has changed. Reading is much more required in the work place. Reading is used much more in commerce. We’ve become so much more reliant on our literacy skills than we were, you know, 30 years ago.”
Shanahan and others call Every 1 Reads an ambitious program because, unlike most others throughout the country, it doesn’t focus only on primary school students. It includes high school students. And, the program uses writing to teach them to read better. This year, juniors are spending half of their time in English class on writing.
At Iroquois High School, Stephanie Hankins is teaching juniors how to polish personal stories that they have been working on since the beginning of the year. They have read excerpts from “The Kite Runner” and work by Maya Angelou. Today, Hankins is teaching them the importance of mood.
“And the mood can also help clarify the significance of your story,” Hankins tells the students. “And you remember that by significance we mean the lesson you learn or the change that you undergo due to your experience.”
Hankins says some of these juniors were in classes for low performing students for their first two years of high school. This year, students like Jordon Hoard are building on what they’ve learned by documenting their own lives.
Hoard’s story is about a time he was robbed.
“I was about 13, 14. I was going to my granny’s,” Hoard says. “I was walking through a dark alley. And two people came out with guns, telling me to give them my money and stuff. They said they were going to kill me if I didn’t give them money.”
Hoard says writing about this has helped him be more aware of his surroundings. He says books have taught him more about the world and the choices he has, including the choice to go to college.
“Certain things in life might be hard and you might struggle with,” he says. “But, like, if you just keep going, keep pushing you can make it through, have better things in life.”
This is one result Lue Peabody and other educators are pushing for.
“When you’re a better reader then you can make better decisions about your choices in life,” Peabody says. “Because you know how to look at information and analyze it, evaluate it, look at the pros and cons and make decisions.”
As for test results, Peabody says by 2013 they should show that more than 80 percent of students are reading beyond grade level. Meeting that goal, she says, means changing teaching so that students can see the value of what their learning and how it applies to the world outside of school.