April 24, 2014

Third grade is the pivotal year for reading skills, said Carroll elementary schools principal Sue Ruch.

Research shows that students proficient at reading by the end of third grade will not fall behind in literacy skills throughout the rest of their grade-school career.

In light of those findings, Iowa schools are required to have an "intensive" reading summer school program in place by May 1, 2017. But Carroll Community School District hopes to get ahead of that legislation. During its meeting Monday, the Carroll school board approved an intensive summer school pilot program for 2014, focused specifically on literacy skills.

Elementary teachers already differentiate lessons plans to focus on students' individual strengths and weaknesses, said Ruch. The 2014 pilot program will target second-grade students in order to get them up to speed with their peers before they take the critical third-grade assessments.

The pilot program will have two classes of four or five students. The reading summer school will start one week earlier than the regular summer school, running 8:30 a.m. to noon, four days a week, from June 2 to June 26. The students will return for three days in August for review and to help teachers evaluate whether the students retained the gains made during the intensive summer program, said Ruch.

By targeting second-grade students, teachers will also be able to compare the students' data to their peers for grades before and after the summer program to additionally evaluate its effectiveness, she added.

The students will be selected based on data collected by the Formative Assessment System for Teachers - a pilot computer program Carroll schools were selected to implement this year to track fluency and accuracy skills in the lower grades - and Iowa Assessment data that measures reading comprehension.

The students who are most deficient, and will commit to attending the entire program, will receive the first opportunity. Students who are only slightly deficient will not be invited to the intensive program.

Parent involvement will be critical, Ruch said. Teachers will meet one-on-one with the parents to explain the importance of the program, what the goals are for the student, and how parents can help their children accomplish those goals. An attendance pledge signed by the parents will be mandatory for a child's participation in the program.

Ruch estimates that the pilot reading school will cost between $5,000 and $7,500. It most likely will be paid for with at-risk funds available to the district, she said. The district has also received a $25,000 early-literacy grant, but that money will likely be held and used to improve and expand the program if it proves successful, she said.

This year's pilot program will reach about one-third of the students who would qualify.