Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Schools Focus on Reading; Poor FCAT Scores Lead to Proposals before Board

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Schools Focus on Reading; Poor FCAT Scores Lead to Proposals before Board

Article excerpt

Byline: Cynthia L. Garza, Times-Union staff writer

The addition of an intensive intervention program for 31 schools whose students are reading below grade level is among several related measures the Duval County School Board will consider at its regular meeting tomorrow.

Also scheduled for consideration is a substantive reading course for sixth- and ninth-grade students beginning in the 2004-05 school year.

Most of the elementary schools are in North and northwest Jacksonville and are C and D schools under the state's accountability system based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

"I think you put your focus where the needs are," said Constance Hall, principal at Martin Luther King Elementary.

School Board member Brenda Priestly Jackson has worked with Superintendent John Fryer and his staff since March on coming up with recommendations of reading programs for the district's lowest-performing students.

"We've established this as our priority," Jackson said. "We want full implementation" of the program. If doing such requires extra funding, the schools will receive it, she said.

In 2003, 35 percent of third-graders, 41 percent of fourth-graders and 43 percent of fifth-graders scored below grade level in reading on the FCAT.

The elementary school recommendations include a minimum of three hours of reading instruction a day and that students be given supplemental or auxiliary reading materials. Reading materials must be approved by the state education department and must be research-based, or essentially have been tried and tested.

"There had been [such] divergent opinions on the best reading programs to use," said School Board member Nancy Broner. Schools across the system use a number of different reading programs, including phonics and whole-language programs.

Broner said Jackson's research found "it's not the particular curriculum that is chosen, it's professional development and it's the training of the teachers to help them help the students" and measuring the students' progress.

Individual student progress would also be assessed quarterly, and reports would be sent to parents. The School Board would also get a quarterly report on school progress. …

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