Literacy for Life: Schools plan to standardize reading skills

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Each school in the Carson City School District has milestones in reading that students are expected to meet. However, standards may vary from school to school.

But that's about to change.

Teachers are beginning a three-year process to align the reading curriculum throughout the district.

Susan Keema, associate superintendent for educational services, said it's important because reading is the fundamental skill that serves as the backbone to education.

"It's the No. 1 thing," she said. "You can't pass a math or science test unless you can read. If a person can't read, they can't even take a driver's test."

Reading specialists at each of the schools met last week with teachers to introduce the process, called "curriculum mapping," where individual elements of learning are broken down and analyzed.

Denise Holderman, at Bordewich-Bray Elementary School, began her presentation by assigning all the teachers with shapes representing their personalities.

"We need all different shapes in this mapping process," she told them. "We are all in this together, as a district, by grade level, by school."

In the next training, teachers throughout the district will meet by grade level rather than by school.

The teachers will collaborate to assign specific goals, from the big ideas they want students to think about to what each student should be able to do to demonstrate proficiency in the particular area.

"There will be some great discussions," Keema said. "If they can get on the same page, that will provide the same opportunities for all of our students across the district."

Sharon Kientz, a retired California reading specialist, who has been critical of the district in the past, said the alignment is a good first step.

In 2007, she visited three Carson City elementary schools and found a "patchwork approach to teaching reading."

She said teachers were given autonomy to choose the method of instruction they thought best.

"That idea itself seems so obvious that it would not be the best approach," she said.

As the Nevada director of the National Right to Read Foundation and a school board representative to the online charter school Nevada Virtual Academy, she's been involved with education since 1974.

She said that although unifying the district is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done.

Not only do standards need to be aligned, she said, but a comprehensive, universal reading program should be adopted across the district.

While some schools use a program called Success For All, others use different programs that approach instruction a different way.

Kientz said she found success with the research-based Project Follow Through and encouraged the district to look at similar programs.

"Until they have a stronger, more successful reading program, they're not going to be bringing these kids up to par," she said.

However, Keema said, reading achievement can be met through a variety of programs, as long as standards are clear and achievable.

"It's huge," said Keema. That's what pulls us together."

In addition to unifying what students are learning from school to school, she said, it will help teachers be better at what they do.

And, she said, research has found that the No. 1 indicator of student success is the teacher.

As part of the mapping, teachers will include lesson plans and activities they've found to best teach each principle.

"There's a wealth of knowledge in this district that when these experienced teachers walk out the door, that knowledge leaves with them," Keema said. "With mapping, we save their ideas for years to come."


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