Reading emphasis in VWSD

Published 11:43 am Thursday, June 23, 2011

Independent and group readings will be integrated into the Vicksburg Warren School District’s curriculum in the new year as part of the comprehensive reading block literacy program that takes effect when classes begin Aug. 8, officials said.

“We have to maximize their time at school,” Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford said, “…and make it efficient every minute of the day. When you look at our test scores in reading, they’re pretty low. That’s why this is so important.”

The district’s nearly 9,000 students will all be required to read in a reading block that contains 110 minutes of literacy instruction.

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The MCT2 scores of third-graders from the 2009-10 school year showed 77 percent scored basic or above in language arts, which is a point down from the previous year and about eight lower than the state average at 85 percent.

The average of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders on language arts is 84 percent, just about the same as for the previous year.

At the high school level, 60 percent of students passed the English subject area of the test, which is about 8 points higher than the previous year. The percentage is eight points lower than the state average for the same year.

“Literacy can be taught in social studies, in science, in math and this is going to be integrated into the programs,” said Swinford, who was hired as superintendent last year on a two-year contract to improve the school district’s “At Risk of Failing” status.

“It’s going to be fully integrated so that the kids are reading and comprehending what they read. We have to address the problem where the problem is — our kids can’t read. That’s why they can’t do tests. If we teach them how to read, they stand a better chance.”

The comprehensive reading block for elementary students will consist of 50 minutes of interactive reading aloud and shared reading, 40 minutes of guided and independent reading and 20 minutes of awareness/phonics, word study and spelling and vocabulary.

The reading block will be done as whole classes and as small groups.

At the secondary level, students will be required to participate in whole-class and small-group readings.

While the school district is prescribing the reading block, Swinford said, individual schools and teachers will be able to choose their own books.

The reading block’s integration into the curriculum will be in part due to Swinford’s strictly enforcing in the new year the Mississippi Department of Education’s policy of requiring elementary school students to be in school from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. Planning of bus transportation and breakfast service will determine the exact start and end times. A letter outlining the school hours will be sent home to parents in July, Swinford said.

About 200 teachers were introduced to the comprehensive reading block in the two-week-long professional development session, which ended a week ago today.

Teachers, who were not required and not paid to attend the sessions but were given continuing education credits, were given a plan to create the framework in their classrooms.