Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Struggling Readers in Urban High Schools: Evaluating the Impact of Professional Development in Literacy

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Struggling Readers in Urban High Schools: Evaluating the Impact of Professional Development in Literacy

Article excerpt

The objective of this study was to determine the effectiveness of a district-wide professional development effort based on a modified RampUp Program, designed to help high school teachers improve the reading skills of their students. Ramp-Up is a two-year course that seeks to accelerate the learning progress of entering high school students who are two or more years behind grade level in English/Language Arts. The course assumes that students can decode text and are reading at least at a Grade 3 level. Activities focus on helping students make rapid progress toward becoming fluent readers, develop wider vocabularies, and comprehend grade level texts through a variety of instructional approaches: (a) Independent Reading (AUington, 2001; Beers, 2003); (b) Read-Aloud/Think-Aloud/ Talk-Aloud (Hahn, 2002; Richardson, 2000); (c) whole-group and smallgroup reading and writing instruction (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996; Pearson, 1994); and, (d) collaborative learning situations including cross-age tutoring and service learning (Labbo & Teale, 1990). Pilot testing showed that the course had a positive effect on high school students' scores on normreferenced reading and language arts tests (Muñoz, 2007).

In this study, the effectiveness of this professional development model was evaluated using the five levels outlined by Guskey (2000; 2001a; 2001b) for evaluating professional development activities in education. The first level assessed participants' reactions, while the second level assessed participants' learning through pre- and post-measures of knowledge and skills specific to the program. The third level assessed participants' perceptions of organizational support to enable change, and the fourth level focused on participants' use of new knowledge and skiUs at the classroom level. The fifth and final level assessed the impact on student learning outcomes using results from statewide accountability assessments in reading.

Research on Reading at the Secondary Level

Since reading is arguably the most fundamental academic skill, research on reading has long been a prime focus of educational researchers. Modem educators have recognized reading competence as a vital skill in its own right and as a necessary skill to achieve competence in other academic subjects, including the humanities, science, mathematics, and the social sciences. The demands of an information-based economy have made reading central to school improvement programs, including the federal legislation governing Title I and No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001).

The basic skill of reading has always been an important concern of primary school educators. However, reading performance is an issue for middle and high schools as weU. Educators and other stakeholders have voiced concerns about the reading ability of secondary students, especially when low ability creates barriers to effective job performance and enrollment in post-secondary education (Peterson, Caverly, Nicholson, O'Neal, & Cusenbary, 2000).

Despite concern about the poor reading ability of many high school students, there have been few efforts to deal with the problem other than working to improve reading instruction in the elementary school grades. Many years after NCLB, there is stiU a lack of attention to reading for secondary students. As noted by Conley and Hinchman (2004), NCLB says little if anything about the contexts for literacy and what teachers need to know and be able to do in order to successfully promote adolescent literacy. The federal, state, and local emphases on educational accountability are making educators more accountable for the outcomes of aU students from primary school through high school. Poor secondary school reading is a problem that needs to be addressed in light of the new demands placed on educators at all levels.

Promising approaches identified in the past to improve secondary reading include "teaching for understanding" and the concept of "scaffolding student learning" (Graves & Graves, 1994; Graves 1999). …

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