Lower reading scores have Tulsa superintendent considering year-round calendar for all
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2012
A gradual erosion of reading proficiency rates among students over the past four years has Tulsa Public Schools leaders considering shifts in the academic year calendar and ways to increase student access to technology.
Officials already moved swiftly to streamline the district’s remedial programs for students reading below grade level because that percentage rose to 39 percent and 50 percent in some grade levels on 2011-12 state tests.
“We are working aggressively to raise reading scores and to improve student achievement in general,” Superintendent Keith Ballard told the Tulsa World in an exclusive interview.
“We have done so much reform work on teacher effectiveness, teacher evaluations and focusing on school leadership. Next we need to focus on getting more time on task for our students and the best utilization of technology, while continuing to work on attendance and safety issues.”
In a special meeting with the Tulsa school board on Monday, Ballard will detail his plans for studies of the Continuous Learning Calendar — or CLC — already in use at six Tulsa sites as well as the entire Oklahoma City school district and a study of the district’s technology needs.
Ballard insists that the study of the CLC academic year model will be open-ended and will include numerous opportunities for input from educators, parents and other concerned patrons, following the pattern the district used in its Project Schoolhouse efficiency initiative.
“We are going to be very good listeners, do our research and take everything into consideration,” he said.
His ultimate goal is to identify opportunities for “additional time-on-task” for students and ways to cut down on the learning loss that most students experience during the 12-week summer break.
“I believe our students could benefit from more time on task with fewer breaks in learning,” Ballard said. “After a thorough study is conducted over the next several months — and only if we feel there is compelling evidence and community support — then we would look at a possible districtwide implementation of CLC.”
Continuous Learning Calendar schools are in session for the same number of instructional days as traditional schools, but the days are spread out so that students’ summer break is shorter. Chouteau, Eugene Field, Gilcrease, Kendall-Whittier, Mark Twain and Marshall elementary schools are already on that schedule.
It allows those schools to offer an additional eight weeks of remedial instruction for students during midyear breaks, called intersessions, but attendance is voluntary.
Other district officials said funding is a significant concern in calendar changes, as are efforts to improve remedial programs and technology access.
“There has absolutely been a downward decline in our reading scores,” said Tracy Bayles, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “We have to stop that, and in order to do that, we have to support those students.”
Relying heavily on federal funding and grants led schools to implement a myriad of remedial programs.
Bayles said that isn’t ideal because some are more effective than others and especially because a significant number of the city’s children switch schools frequently.
Schools districtwide are now employing only the two most commonly used — and most heavily funded — programs.
“Read 180 (one of the reading-intervention programs) is one of the most research-supported, world-renowned remedial programs in the world, but to implement it with fidelity calls for much smaller class sizes than we have now,” Bayles explained.
“The research shows with 15-to-1 class sizes in 90-minute classes, you can bring students’ reading levels up two years in one year, but we’ve got 30-something in a class for 50-60 minutes.”
The district has been allocated $2.58 million in federal funding that can be used at the district’s lowest-performing schools, but not a dime of it can be spent until the Oklahoma State Department of Education certifies that list of schools.
All of that has been held up by controversy over the state’s new A-to-F school report card system.
“We could have used that money months ago to purchase materials and computers and even hire some reading specialists to bring down group sizes for remedial work,” said Jill Hendricks, director of federal programs at TPS. “It’s just sitting there, and we can’t use it.”
As for technology, Bayles said other schools have seen significant impacts on student achievement by ensuring that all students have access to up-to-date instructional programs and reading materials at the tips of their fingers.
For example, an iPad or a Kindle device could ensure that schools have the latest electronic versions of textbooks and would increase student access to books and online library research resources.
Bayles said some of the remedial programs could also be accessed with such devices, while currently many schools struggle to keep enough desktop computers in functional order for such student work.
See the reading proficiency numbers in Friday's Tulsa World and at tulsaworld.com tomorrow.
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard said school officials "are working aggressively to raise reading scores and to improve student achievement in general."