CASD Discusses Elementary Reading Support

CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield school board discussed its elementary reading support “watch list” and also approved Clearfield High School summer school and Keystone Exam remediation programs at Monday night’s combined committee and board meeting.

Bruce Nicolls, director of curriculum/instruction and federal programs, detailed the district’s current, three-tier model for elementary reading support. In Tier 1, he said nearly all of the students participate in the core program with 70-80 percent successful at this level of reading support.

In Tier 2, he said some students, or 10-15 percent, require additional time or differential instruction to be successful. This usually consists of tutoring or lighter level of support. In Tier 3, he said some students, 5-10 percent, may need intensive, research-based programs to be successful.

So far as Tier 3, Nicolls said Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) is delivered daily to small groups of two to three students for 30 – 40 minutes, in addition to the core program. Under ideal conditions, he said students should be at near grade level in 16 – 18 weeks if they have regular attendance and at-home support.

According to him, these students are assessed early in the year, as the staff determines who could benefit most from immediate Tier 3 support. He said additional students are placed on a “watch list” and receive Tier 1 or Tier 2 support. Near mid-year he said students are re-evaluated and some exit from LLI and others enter the program.

Nicolls said 11 students are on the “watch list” at Centre Elementary, where there are 28 students receiving LLI. He said six students are on the “watch list” in third grade at the Clearfield Elementary School. Initially at the CES, Nicolls said there were 20 students in LLI and 25 students on the “watch list.”

“These are our two, bigger groups that we’re looking at more closely,” he said. Nicolls believed the district was pretty close to the appropriate level of staffing for its elementary reading support program. However, board member Jennifer Wallace disagreed, saying their top priority was education, and she’d rather be proactive and employ an extra staff member to benefit the district and its students. Nicolls said they were trying to balance fiscal responsibility and needs and making the best with what they have.

Board members Susan Mikesell and Rick Schickling sought answers for the big difference between the second and third grades at the CES. Mikesell said in the second grade, only 10 students were on the initial “watch list.”  When compared to other grade levels, Nicolls said the CES third grade group was unusually high and represented about 30 percent of students at that grade level.

CES Principal Jamie Quick said for that reason, they’d gone to one staff member per grade level rather than three overall for reading support. Unfortunately as students get older, he said there’s also more likelihood of identification, finding students are happier behind while they have more time to grow. Centre Elementary Principal Mary Michael Sayers said its increase could be directly correlated with the increase of new students this year.

Wallace asked how the district approaches correcting its reading support issues and solicited further discussion among board members. Superintendent Dr. Thomas B. Otto said the district’s Title 1 program will probably be underfunded at the federal level in the upcoming year. Even still he thought the board could entertain the hiring of another staff member for reading support.

When asked after the meeting, Nicolls said he’s estimating the district will lose around $150,000 in Title 1 funding from the federal level. If the district would hire another staff member for reading support, he estimated it would cost around $100,000 for salaries and benefits.

Otto believed students’ reading skills were regressing over the summer months. Nicolls said it was a “big issue” with some students reading very little or not at all, which could be resulting in the higher initial identification of students who need reading support. Nicolls said some get into the swing of things, while others require some additional monitoring.

Board member Dr. Michael Spencer wanted the district to make the right decision and asked if the district would be better served to switch its reading support to K-3 rather than including the fourth grade. He said studies have shown more growth occurs at the lower grade levels.  Nicolls said the PSSA had been their “strong incentive” for including the fourth grade in the Title 1 reading program.

Summer School

Nicolls said the high school administration wanted credit recovery mechanisms in the form of summer school to improve its graduation rate. He said two years ago, the federal and state standards changed the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) graduation target rate from 80 percent to 85 percent. Nicolls said they also changed the way it’s calculated.

According to him, the graduation rate is now calculated by the percent of ninth graders who graduate in four years. He said any student who obtains a GED, any IEP student who stays additional years, any student who drops out, any student who graduates in five years, any student who moves but never enrolls and any cyber school student who returns without enough credits to graduate all count against the district.

He said the district’s graduation rate was 78 percent in 2011; 81 percent in 2010, which was the first year of the four-year cohort without any disaggregation of subgroups; and 84 percent in 2009 under the old graduation formula and target. He said the district’s AYP status is determined by the previous year’s graduation rate.

Nicolls said the district is currently classified as “District Improvement.” He said this requires that 10 percent of its Title 1 funding, or $83,000, be used for professional development and other initiatives to raise the graduation rate. Nicolls said this year, the district is going to invest in instructional coaching at the high and middle schools, as well as in the purchase of books for all professional staff on teaching students from poverty.

He said the high school hadn’t provided summer school or correspondence classes to help with credit recovery for several years. Last year, he said the summer school helped 15 students graduate on time that otherwise wouldn’t have without it.

Principal Tim Janocko said they had met with the faculty in the core subject areas. He said they’re looking at allowing students more opportunities to make up work on a quarterly basis and still offering summer school.

Janocko said they wanted to provide summer school this year, beginning June 12 and ending June 26 at the Centre Elementary School. He said each session would be held from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m., except for Friday, which would be from 8 a.m. – 11 a.m. He said they wanted one teacher from each of the core areas: English, social studies, mathematics and science with one also certified in special education. If a dual-certified teacher couldn’t be found, Janocko said there would be a need for an additional teacher certified in special education.

The board approved the proposed high school summer school program.

Keystone Exams

Nicolls presented the results of the Winter Keystone Exams during which students were tested in Algebra I, Biology and Literature. He pointed out that in Algebra I, 60 percent of students passed, which was 6 percent above the state average. He said 41.8 percent and 65.8 percent passed in Biology and Literature, respectively, which was comparable to the state averages for those subject areas.

Nicolls said the students who didn’t pass would be retaking the Keystone Exams in May. He requested to provide up to 12 plan periods from seven high school English teachers for remedial purposes prior to the May Keystone Exams. He said it’s important to have the maximum students passing for the district to meet AYP targets. Nicolls said the cost would be approximately $2,200.

The board approved the requested Keystone Exam remediation.

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