Area schools confident in meeting third-grade reading guidelines

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Evart Public Schools and Reed City Area Public Schools officials are confident their future students will meet new state guidelines aimed at improving reading proficiency.

Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Snyder signed House Bill 4822, establishing guidelines to assure students have third-grade level literacy before continuing on to the next grade. The bill outlines several measures being created to support struggling students, including individualized plans and necessary assistance programs. Going into effect for the 2017-18 kindergarten class, the bill also requires principals or administrators to provide teachers with professional development programs that will assist them in improving reading proficiency.

EPS Superintendent Shirley Howard said schools have expected this legislation for some time and they are well prepared for the new guidelines.

“We’ve put in a new K-3 reading program called Open Court that has been very successful with the students so far,” she said. “The teachers have the tools they need. My feelings are that you can’t wait until third grade to fix anything, you have to start before that. You have to start in kindergarten.”

RCAPS Curriculum Director Katie Eisinger said she and others have expected this legislation for about year.

“We’ve already started working on some things internally to address the needs of students in K-3,” she said. “We’ve been working for two years with the Michigan Department of Education Early Literacy grants, receiving just over $21,000 last year, and just under $20,000 this year, which help provide instructional time.”

A former elementary school principal, Howard said EPS already has measures to help students meet reading proficiency benchmarks in third grade.

“I think we have a very sound and proactive system in place,” she explained. “For the first time this year, many of our schools in the Mecosta Osceola Intermediate School District took the Northwest Evaluation Association testing. Those results will go along with the the Compass Learning program we bought, so we can find where students are deficient and can use an intervention that matches the specific targets that need to be worked on.”

With having one-to-one ratio for Chromebooks, Howard said Compass Learning can be utilized for an entire class or just a small group of students.

“We can do interventions for a whole class in that manner, or continue with interventions we already have in place,” she said. “We also added paraprofessionals to kindergarten classes, because if our goal is for them to succeed, we need to make sure they are achieving reading goals where they need to.”

Eisinger said RCAPS has spent the last year making sure its curriculum is in line with the new guidelines.

“A big part of that is making sure students are proficient in reading and making sure our phonics is in line,” she said. “Over the summer we had a phonics training session where we trained all teachers for the new reading program. (Deanna) Goodman and I restructured the Title program that serves students who are still struggling with grade-level reading proficiency.”

RCAPS also has a power hour program called WIN or What I Need time, Eisinger said.

“The Title teachers go down to grade levels and have created intervention groups off our data, and can even go to smaller groups,” she said. “They can really focus on the needs of those in the group.”

Eisinger also said she and others are in the early stages of having a Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a national organization which sends a free book each month to any child from birth to age 5.