CLEARFIELD – During personnel discussions at Monday night’s committee meetings, Clearfield school board member Gail Ralston raised great concerns with the district’s Title I reading program not extending beyond the third grade.
Ralston said she realized the district only had so much funding; however, she didn’t believe Title I reading intervention should stop after the third grade. Ralston said the district had fourth and fifth grade students who were in need of help that could only be provided by a reading specialist.
In a medical environment, she said patients aren’t told they can only see their cardiologist for so many years and then directed to just see their general practitioner. “When you have needs, you should be able to get that specialized help,” she said.
When the students’ reading scores were previously presented prior to the school year, Ralston said they had improved, but they’re “not all home free yet.” She said the district’s average scores consist of taking highs and lows and blending them together. However, she said if they considered the range of scores, they would realize the difference.
“I find it extremely unfortunate that our fourth graders and our fifth graders do not have that level of expertise to help them. I know our regular education teachers – with the help of two reading specialists for K-12 – do their best . . .” said Ralston. “We need some more avenues and some more specialized help for those children though. I voted against $90,000 to have matching pool tile, and I know that came from the capital fund. But if we have money floating around, I think we need to address the educational needs of our children.”
Superintendent Terry Struble said the goal of any Title I reading program is to get the students to reading at grade level and to transition them back into the classroom. He said if they’re flowing the students in and out as needs are presented, it would be ideal to have all of them at reading level by the third or fourth grade. “I think the challenge and the reality is that we’re not there yet,” said Struble. “So we need to look at how to find a way for it to work and find a balance.”
Struble added once the district is configured into K-6 and 7-12 next year it could reevaluate its Title I reading program.
Ralston said students are moving into the fourth grade and approximately half are not reading at level. She said that is a lot of students, and she struggled digesting why the district wanted to review more data and wait for more time to elapse before addressing the reading issues.
Bruce Nicolls, director of curriculum and coordinator of federal programs, said every grade level has some kind of reading intervention available to students, such as the Reading 180 program and the ninth grade literacy seminar. Nicolls said the district provides reading intervention at other grade levels, it’s just not provided by the Title I reading program and a reading specialist.
“It’s not a specialist,” said Ralston. “And, to me, that’s the difference between a cardiologist and a general practitioner. I know our general education teachers do all they can, but they don’t have the specialized skills and do have limitations.”
According to Nicolls, significant studies have shown if students don’t read at grade level by the second or third grade, their chances go way down for them ever getting there. This, he said, is why the district has focused its Title I reading program on the primary grade levels. Nicolls also said some states use second grade reading levels to project future prison capacities.
Ralston asked why the district’s cut-off is third grade for Title I reading if studies are predicting how many prisons must be built and how many cells will be needed in 10 years with second grade reading levels. She believed the fourth, fifth and even the sixth grade should be included in the specialized reading program.
“Basically, you’re saying if you get to the fourth grade and not reading at level, then you’re not getting any help,” said Ralston. “At least you’re not getting the specialized help, and that’s what makes all the difference.”
Board President Mary Anne Jackson said the board would further discuss the matter, as it develops the mold of what it would like to become. She reminded that this wasn’t a matter on the agenda for the committee meetings.
Board member Dr. Michael Spencer told Ralston that he had 41 years in education, and he didn’t disagree with her. However, he opposed adding a teacher at the moment. Spencer said most of the Title I program was planned out by the end of last year and involved meeting with teachers in the schools.
“If it was explained and no one questioned it, then I, as a board member, am not going to override that,” he said. Ralston said she, as a temporary board member, felt it was something that needed to be addressed by the district.