Teaching Students to Read

Photo courtesy of Elon University Education Department.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go.” This advice comes from Dr. Seuss’ book “I Can Read with my Eyes Shut!” Dr. Seuss is usually one of the first authors that children are exposed to in kindergarten or first grade when they are learning to read. Sadly, some fourth graders struggle to read those classic Dr. Seuss books by the time they graduate fourth grade This is unfortunately the reality many American children are facing across the nation.

Many children across America are unable to read at grade-level. Even with the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, elementary school children in America continue to perform below average on standardized testing which assesses the students’ reading levels at the end of each grade. Some parents and teachers are blaming the economy as the root cause of these lower reading levels. But is anyone really to blame?

After the implementation of adequate yearly progress standards by the No Child Left Behind Act, schools in the Alamance-Burlington school system have struggled to meet certain standards. In order to meet these federal standards, a certain percentage of students had to achieve a level at or above proficiency in reading and math. Students of certain ethnicity groups, income levels, and non-English speaking families also had to achieve certain proficiency levels.

During the 2009-2010 school year the proficiency standard students were required to achieve was dramatically lower than the proficiency requirement for the 2010-2011 school year. The state increased the proficiency requirements in order to achieve the federal No Child Left Behind requirement that all students must be proficient in certain areas by the 2013-2014 school year. The influx in the proficiency standard that students were required to meet caused many schools in the Alamance-Burlington school system to fail adequate yearly progress. If the school system does not meet adequate yearly progress standards for two or more years, they will be placed in School Improvement Status where they must focus on increasing students’ proficiency in all subject areas. In 2010-2011, elementary students had to achieve a 71.6 percent proficiency level in reading. This was almost double the percentage from the 2009-2010 school year, which was 43.2 percent.

A score of a level III proficiency or higher is the required category students must fall into in all subjects in order for schools to achieve adequate yearly progress. In 2009, only 37 percent of North Carolina students in grade three achieved a level III score in reading. In 2010 the percentage remained the same with 37.5 percent of students in grade three achieving a level III score in reading.

In 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 Alamance-Burlington school system achieved adequate yearly progress overall, and within the specific demographic groups outlined by the state. During both years, 43.2 percent of students that were economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, or had limited English proficiency were at or above grade level in reading. In2010-2011,however, several Alamance-Burlington schools did not achieve adequate yearly progress. However, the percentage of students that were economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, or had limited English proficiency increased to 71.6 percent.

These test scores are vital to understanding elementary school students reading abilities. According to these test results, students were proficient in reading during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school year, but failed to achieve proficiency during the 2010-2011 school year. Only five percent of elementary schools in the Alamance-Burlington school system achieved adequate yearly progress during the 2010-2011 school year. Sowhat is causing students in the Alamance-Burlington school system to fail to meet proficiency levels in reading? Some teachers and parents say the new state standards are to blame, but others blame the results on an increase in families on welfare.

Are the teachers to blame?

Teachers are often the first ones who are blamed when students’ success is slacking. But are teachers the only ones who are to blame? Should parents and administrators consider other factors before placing the blame?

After examining the quality of teachers and administrators in the Alamance-Burlington school system during 2010-2011 it was discovered that teachers might not be to blame. In almost all cases the quality of teachers and administrators in elementary schools was the same as the state average. The average class size in elementary schools was 19 students, and there were an average of 37 elementary school teachers.

Most of them were fully licensed, but only one-quarter had advanced degrees. Almost half of all elementary school teaches had ten plus years of teaching experience.

Principals were also very qualified and were almost always above the statewide averages. Fewer than half of all principals had advanced degrees, and only 17 percent of principals had ten plus years of experience. However, it is important to recognize that statewide only 21 percent of principals had advanced degrees, which is much less than Alamance county, yet a similar amount had 10 plus years of experience.

Teachers with advanced degrees in the Alamance Burlington School System.

Based on these results elementary school teachers in the Alamance-Burlington school system are highly qualified. But should teachers be struggling on a daily basis to teach students the basic reading skills rather than appropriate grade-level work? Carrie Crotts, an elementary school teacher at Highland Elementary School believes this may be true.

“The classroom sizes are increasing yearly as a result of many teachers being laid off due to budget cuts,” Crotts said. “Having a large class sizes doesn’t allow me to focus my attention on students who are struggling in reading. Instead I have to get help from classroom tutors and volunteers. Those volunteers are qualified, but are only here for a limited time, and you can only get so much done.”

            Teachers are doing all they can with the limited resources they have. It may not be the teachers who are the problem.

Do schools not have the resources necessary to adequately teach students to read?

Financial support provided to public schools.

            In many of today’s elementary school classrooms you will find technology that is a couple of years behind the latest version. Schools simply do not have the funds to keep updating to the latest technology every school year. According to the 2010-2011 NC School Report Card of Alamance Burlington Schools from the 2010-2011 school year over half of funding goes towards salaries and benefits. The remainder of the funds goes towards teaching supplies and materials. As you can see, due to a lack of funding the school system simply cannot afford the latest technology and supplies.

Teachers and students must make the most use of what they have in the classroom. However, some teachers are willing to use their own salary to buy updated materials for their classrooms. But the percentage of teachers doing this is few and far between. Many parent teach organizations host fundraisers to improve classroom materials, and provides a significant aid to the teachers. If parents want their students to learn with the latest technology and materials they must advocate for more funding or expose the children to these materials at home.

Moving Forward

Teachers and administrators are aware of the improvements that need to be made, and are being proactive. Volunteers in the classroom are a step in the right direction, but parents need to step up and take responsibility and become more involved as well. With the continued dedication inside and outside of the classroom the future looks promising for elementary schools in the Alamance Burlington school system.

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