Reading early makes for better students later

10:59 am November 26th, 2013

By Shannon Hirska
Contributing writer
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Washington has mandated that all third and fourth-grade students should be reading at grade level by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. As a school district, Eatonville recognizes the importance of reading at this level and beyond. Students who are good readers have a foundation to excel in all subjects.
Eatonville Elementary School principal Diane Heersink phrased it succinctly when she said, “From kindergarten to second grade, students are learning to read. Third grade and beyond, students are reading to learn.”
For Eatonville elementaries, this will be a transition year, as the district will also be piloting a new state assessment, Smarter Balance. This test replaces the former Measure of Student Progress. Last year 76.2 percent of Columbia Crest’s third-graders met standard; 57.1 percent of its fourth graders. Eatonville Elementary met standard with 86.2 percent of its third graders; 65.8 percent of its fourth-graders. 71.9 percent of Weyerhaeuser’s third graders met standard and 77.4 percent of its fourth-graders.
Scores from the 2012-2013 school year will display through next year, as the new assessment is implemented. Complete score information is available at
To meet the rigorous new state requirements, elementary schools have implemented a multi-tiered approach to address individual student needs. The process begins with an evaluation of the student’s reading skills, including testing through the Scholastic Reading Inventory program, DIBELS testing and instructor input to determine comprehension, fluency and phonics ability. Results are used to pinpoint specific areas of deficiency, providing information to create a targeted intervention plan for students to receive instruction based on personal needs.
Heersink likened the method to a doctor’s visit, with the fluency as an indicator to overall reading “health,” then delving further to diagnose underlying issues.
Students are grouped based on ability, then participate in “Walk to Read,” in which students move to classrooms and work within an ability-based group with a teacher specifically assigned to them, along with reading assistants. Every student receives at least 60 minutes per day of reading instruction. Those who have not met benchmark receive an additional 30 minutes of a “Reading Mastery” program, which includes content area selections – cross-curricular instruction themes based on subjects such as science or social studies. Involving other subject matter not only improves reading, but reinforces the material learned in those areas as well.
Last year, the district adopted a new math curriculum which reading specialist and teacher Colleen Arthur estimates is 80 percent dependent on reading skills.
Teachers have also identified multi-syllabic words as a stumbling block for many struggling readers, and in response have provided targeted curriculum to break down words, looking at the base (root), prefix and suffix.
Another component of the reading program utilizes “themed readers.” These stories are intended to grab the student’s attention and engage them through an interest in the content. Multiple forms of print material, including vocabulary work, are provided along with the readers.
Elementary schools are also emphasizing independent reading. Each school has its own way of encouraging students to find time to grab a book and read. Weyerhaeuser uses the Accelerated Reader program as an incentive, allowing students to set goals and earn bonuses for AR points. Eatonville Elementary has instituted the 20/20 reading program. Students are asked to read for 20 minutes 20 times per month. A log is sent home for parents to verify the reading time. This adds up; a student who reads 20 minutes each day will accumulate 60 whole school days of reading time by the time they reach the end of sixth grade. A student who reads only five minutes per day will rack up only 12 school days. The difference in vocabulary exposure and pure practice makes a huge difference to skill level.
Eatonville fourth-grade teacher Karen Andrascik suggested that parents get creative and have their children read to the family pet.
With multiple students in the classroom, teachers simply don’t have as much time as they would like to spend one-on-one with students. Family members (or friends) are invaluable in providing practice time for student readers, teachers say.
Homes where reading is valued provide an atmosphere that leads to student achievement. Arthur pointed out that “a parent is a child’s first teacher.” The consensus among Eatonville teachers is that bringing families into the mix is critical to a student’s success in becoming competent readers.
To measure individual gains, as well as gauge how Eatonville is faring in meeting the state mandate, student progress is monitored every two weeks with timed tests. There is a huge range of abilities. Third-graders at Eatonville Elementary read from three to 130 words per minute; 123 minute is considered grade level. Fourth-graders are expected to read at a rate of 144 words per minute of grade-appropriate material. If a student is not making adequate improvement, his or her program will be adjusted.
Weyerhaeuser principal Amy Sturdivant points to steady growth in reading over the past three years, and she is hopeful that the trend will continue this year. She also noted, “It has been increasingly challenging over the past few years, as federal funds have declined, resulting in cuts to our reading assistants.”
Additional levy funding to add staffing would be a huge boon to the program, the district says.
Sturdivant commended teachers, assistants and students for working hard to meet learning goals every day.

Shannon Hirska is an Eatonville School District employee.

Fern Tapia-Moreno and Messiah Iron Hawk are elementary school students in the Eatonville School District. (Courtesy photo)

Fern Tapia-Moreno and Messiah Iron Hawk are elementary school students in the Eatonville School District. (Courtesy photo)

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