City schools evaluating reading materials

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 23, 2004

A team of independent researchers met with teachers and administrators in the Selma City School System this week to evaluate reading instruction materials that could eventually be used in schools across the country.

Researchers with McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) choose four Selma City schools to study the effectiveness of new classroom workbooks and teaching tools developed by the Harcourt Achieve publishing company.

Dr. Verdell Lett Dawson, curriculum coordinator for the school system, said researchers will do a comparative analysis of how well first-, second-, and third-grade students do with the new materials as opposed to the teaching materials already being used.

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The study works by dividing classes at Payne, Cedar Park, Knox, and Clark Elementary schools into separate groups. Some classrooms will work with the same reading instruction materials that have been used within the school system for the past few years, while others will use the new materials developed by Harcourt Achieve.

McREL will begin the study by giving participating classes a pre-test to measure students’ reading capabilities. At the end of the school year, students will again have to take a test.

According to Dr. Helen Apthorp, McREL principal researcher, the results of the two tests will be used to determine how well students learned using the Harcourt Achieve materials.

“Each of the authors of these materials are leading professionals and their work is based upon years of research,” said Bill Wilkinson, director of research for Harcourt Achieve.

The materials in the study are designed to teach phonetic development and fluency.

Dawson said the study gives the school system another avenue of teaching reading in the correct way.

“Teaching reading is now rocket science,” Dawson said. “There is a lot of work that goes into it, and our goal is to have all students reading on grade level by the time they reach third-grade.”

Payne Principal Arthur Capers said he fully supports the study because he wants to see how well his students are measuring up in term of reading.

“I want to see how students are measuring in reading as opposed to just taking the SAT and BIBELS tests,” Capers said.

This week McREL has been training retired teachers and college students on how to administer the tests and meeting with teachers to discuss how the use the new materials.

Apthorp says McREL plans to return in March to monitor the progress and see how well students are doing using the new materials.