Balto. County choosing reading textbooks

Educators seeking consistency among elementary schools

April 23, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

For the first time in about a decade, the Baltimore County school system is poised to purchase a new reading series - perhaps two series - to ensure a more consistent reading program for all elementary school pupils.

"We're looking for as much consistency as we can, for both teachers and students ..., " said Jane Lichter, supervisor of language arts in the department of elementary curriculum and instruction. "It looks like we'll pick two series because of the diverse needs of our student population."

The reading-series purchase is an important step for this school system in which some teachers are using reading textbooks from the 1970s. Many teachers cobble together reading lessons from various stories, which means that pupils' reading abilities might vary greatly from school to school or class to class.

Reading curriculum - what pupils should know about words, sentences and paragraphs, and the reading skills they should have mastered by a given grade level - is the same across the school system.

A committee of teachers, administrators and parents met recently to hear testimony from three publishers, each of whom hopes to win a piece of the $3 million set aside by the county to pay for the new readers and teaching guides.

Board of Education members have been kept up-to-date on the selection process through regular reports by school system staff to the board's Curriculum and Instruction Committee, said Phyllis Bailey, associate superintendent for educational support services. A report on the final selection, or selections, will be sent to the full board by Superintendent Joe A. Hairston.

The three series - by Open Court, Harcourt School Publishers and Houghton Mifflin Co. - have been used on a trial basis in about 30 elementary schools around the county. Teachers who have used the readers - a collection of stories with key vocabulary - turned in critiques Friday, the same day committee members turned in their picks for favorite series.

Teachers and committee members also were asked to judge whether the reading series accurately represent characters of diverse races and cultures.

Administrators will read these critiques and select one or two reading series within the next few weeks, said Lichter, adding that teachers will be trained to use the reading series before the start of the next academic year.

Parents are pleased that the school system is taking steps to provide teachers with a new reading series. Several years ago, the school system bought a single math textbook series.

"We need consistency for children who might move from school to school," said Jan Thomas, a parent with children at county schools.

The new reading series is expected to help teachers, too. Inexperienced teachers might feel more confident using a reading series than trying to pull together resources on their own, said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

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