Push made to strengthen reading comprehension in district schools

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

A student struggling with reading fluency at Whitehall Elementary School will receive more intensive daily instruction than in the past.

Analysis of students' test scores in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District is aiding administrators and teachers to identify weaknesses in reading specifically. The staff uses that information to provide more support for the students, helping them boost reading comprehension.

“Every child is working on their reading every day, not just your neediest students,” said Jennifer Marsteller, principal at Whitehall Elementary School. “It's working very well. I think that's where we see our movement.”

Charts presented at the March 13 school board meeting by Assistant Superintendent Denise Sedlacek show where students made progress in the 2012-13 school year, based on Keystone Examination and other tests.

“The data really speaks volumes at how successful these interventions are,” Sedlacek said.

Students in grades three through eight will take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests this spring, while students in eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th grades took the Keystone Examinations for the first time. All of the tests determine adequate yearly progress as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The elementary schools, specifically, are the target to boost reading.

“Our scores have always tended to be lower in reading,” said Tricia Fusco, principal at Paynter Elementary School. “It's starting to come together and clicking now. It's always good to see that growth.”

Elementary school students test several times a year using the 4Sight and STAR programs to determine which skills need more intensive instruction. Students at Paynter and Whitehall are placed in a three-tier system based on needs and each staff meets every few weeks to discuss individual students.

Paynter students in tiers two and three receive special instruction for either 30 minutes or an hour a day.

“It's very intensive,” Fusco said.

Eighty percent of Whitehall's students went into tier one at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, Marsteller said. Those students participate in Team Time, which is 30-minute block every day for the students to focus on reading comprehension.

Students in tiers two and three spent the first three weeks of the school year being assessed by a reading specialist, and then grouped accordingly to their needs in fluency, phonics and instructional reading levels, Marsteller said.

Still, school board President Kevin Fischer said the most important goal is for the five district schools to meet adequate yearly progress.

“There needs to be five every year,” Fischer said. “The end goal is what we need to achieve.”

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at lvanwert@tribweb.com.

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