School system has plans to focus on literacy: About 50 percent of local students require remediation in college

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By Kathryn Schiliro, Managing Editor

It seems many of the county’s students are not up to meeting the challenges presented by entering college or technical school, much less the workforce. System administration has noticed, and they intend to do something about it.

About 50 percent of Morgan County students require some form of remediation in college for reading or math, Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett told the Board of Education (BOE) at their meeting Aug. 12, something that, unlike public school, students and their parents are paying for in tuition fees.

“It’s not a high school problem, it’s a system problem,” Bennett said. “If 50 percent are being remediated, they’re not prepared for college.”

Further, he said, “We talk about kids going to college, [but] we’ve got a lot of kids going to technical school.”

As part of what system and school administrators did at the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement (GLISI) leadership summit last winter, they learned how to “set goals based on data,” specifically what they’re calling a “SMART Goal,” SMART standing for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.” Of course, goals have always been set based on data, but GLISI training taught administrators “how to do a better job digging into that data,” Assistant Superintendent Jean Triplett said in a later interview.

Previously, administrators looked at data and considered what could be done to correct problems; through GLISI training, administrators have added an extra step: look at the data, determine potential root causes – things like economic factors and attendance, just as examples – and then address corrections and improvements.

The GLISI-trained administrators arrived at “literacy across curriculum in all content areas,” Triplett said, as the root cause of much of the need for remediation, and an issue to be improved upon. Thus the system’s SMART Goal was born.

At GLISI training the school and system administrators considered not only local data, but national studies as well. Bennett’s report to the BOE stated that they looked at a report called “Time to Act,” authored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, which “suggests that the rate of literacy improvement has not kept up with the accelerating demands of the global knowledge economy. Without improvements in literacy rates, students will not be college and career ready nor will they be prepared to compete in the increasingly global economy,” Bennett shared.

“If our kids aren’t literate, it doesn’t matter about math, it doesn’t matter about science, it doesn’t matter about social studies,” Bennett told the BOE, and continued to say that ultimately, without proper literacy skills, students are not prepared for college, much less careers.

The local data that administrators are beginning to dig deep into comes from a number of sources: (1) a High School Feedback Report, gleaned from Morgan County High School’s involvement in the Data Utilization Project, made possible by a three-year, $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation – this generated the previously mentioned statistic of about 50 percent of Morgan’s students require remediation in reading or math at the college level; (2) state standardized test results, those from the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs) – while the county has consistently recorded “high rates of ‘Meets and Exceeds’ in reading grades 3-8,” for example, Bennett argues that Georgia’s proficiency levels, which determine the “Meets and Exceeds” scores, are too low relative to other states; and (3) results from a pilot program, Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), a norm-referenced assessment that tests local students throughout the year to measure academic progress, influencing adjustments to classroom instruction as well as providing teachers and administrators with an ongoing idea of how the county’s students compare to students nationwide.

The first MAP assessment was given last spring and showed that “about 50 percent in each grade (K-9) were reading below grade level as compared to other students in similar age groups,” according to Bennett’s report.

Considering this data, the GLISI team of administrators decided to focus on literacy improvement systemwide as measured by Lexiles, a form of scoring a student’s literacy based not only on reading ability but also on text complexity.

“The idea behind The Lexile Framework for Reading is simple: if we know how well a student can read and how hard a specific book is to comprehend, we can predict how well that student will likely understand the book,” The Lexile Framework for Reading’s website, www.lexile.com, states.

Further, books are rated by Lexile level, so it’s easy to judge books suitable for specific students.

“Teachers and parents can best serve a student’s literacy needs when they treat him or her as a unique individual, rather than as a test score or a grade-level norm or average… However, grade-leveling methods commonly are used to match students with books. When a Lexile text measure matches a Lexile reader measure, this is called a ‘targeted’ reading experience. The reader will likely encounter some level of difficulty with the text, but not enough to get frustrated. This is the best way to grow as a reader–with text that’s not too hard but not too easy,” according to the website.

In addition, there are already remediation programs in place, of course, including state-funded EIPs, or Early Intervention Programs, individualized for Kindergarten through fifth grade students, and REPs, or Remedial Education Plans, for students in grades 6 through 12; the grant-funded Striving Readers program, which includes Lexia software that “picks up on foundational skills missed,” Triplett said; and the previously mentioned MAP tests, which alerts teachers to students’ progress in literacy – this test is administered across grade levels multiple times throughout the school year.

The school system has received a grant through GLISI – $25,000 over three years – to partner with the organization in piloting a program that will support systems in constructing “a culture of continuous improvement in their schools.” Morgan County was one of two systems chosen to receive the grant, the other being Atkinson County.

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