Exposure to preschool reading seen as key to child's success Identifying problems early also important, teacher says

March 01, 1998|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Pam Alexander teaches fifth grade at Carroll County's Eldersburg Elementary School, where she has worked for 22 of her 27 years as an educator, and is the Maryland State Teachers Association representative on the State Task Force on Reading.

She was interviewed recently about her thoughts on reading, from her vantage point as a task force member and teacher in a school where -- like many others across Maryland -- less than half the students achieved satisfactory scores on Maryland School Performance Assessment Program reading tests administered in the third and fifth grades.

What enhances success for children in learning to read?

The most important thing is parent involvement and exposing the preschool child to a literature-rich environment. While we get a lot of children who have that exposure, we also get a fair number of kindergartners who don't know their ABCs and children who are not read to or exposed to books .

One of the most effective methods for evaluating this is a strong K-to-1 program where you identify the children who are having problems, those coming into kindergarten and first grade who don't live in a literature-rich environment, don't have parent involvement and aren't read to.

You identify these children early and set up an individual plan for their learning. We need individual plans for students because they learn in different ways.

We also have a reading club in first and second grade that's very popular with the students. And we have the MORE program -- Moving On with Reading Enrichment -- where people from the community come in to read with the kids.

Why aren't the MSPAP reading test scores at Eldersburg higher?

I'm not sure. We don't know whether the content material or how the test is phrased is too hard. We're not sure that it's not a case where they don't understand the directions -- and when the test is given we are not allowed to explain them in our own words.

I think there may be some testing protocol problems that we're not seeing. I've given these tests from the beginning, and I've written these tests, and you cannot truthfully compare different groups of children.

What can be done to improve test scores at Eldersburg, and at other schools?

We are hoping all the programs we have in place will help.

I would anticipate the scores getting better as increased funding becomes available for these programs and others.

Our whole school will be doing a writing activity, from kindergartners to the fifth-graders. We have a new federal grant for a fifth-grade reading and writing improvement program where students who have been identified as having reading problems are placed in an intensive multiweek improvement program.

We give practice tests to help prepare the students for the MSPAP tests. And we try to model our writing in the classroom after the MSPAP testing program.

Smaller classes will help. And I strongly believe that each child should have an individual program, a prescriptive program that identifies how they learn best.

What do you expect the Reading Task Force to accomplish?

I have high hopes for the report that will be issued in June. It will contain the best practices we've found to teach reading and improve reading comprehension. It'll be sent to everyone in the state -- all the PTAs, the school boards and the school principals. These are methods that will work at any school, things any school can do to help their students.

Do you really believe that these methods -- and the things your school is doing -- will work everywhere? Does a school in a low-income area, where parent involvement may be more difficult to encourage and many students come to school with overwhelming social and family problems, have an equal chance?

It is easier [for Eldersburg] because we're in a relatively affluent community. But this could work in lower-income areas if you get people outside the community involved.

We all have a vested interest in this. As teachers, we prepare for the community a product, and that product is a child. But we all -- the entire community -- have an interest in seeing that child can function properly in today's world.

Pub Date: 3/01/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.