Principals pace pupils' progress

Program: Carroll County is tailoring lessons in comprehension and vocabulary to individuals' abilities.

September 30, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

It used to be that teachers would keep an eye out for poor readers and lavish them with extra attention and tutoring without knowing for sure whether that helped children read better.

But a new program in Carroll County aims to equip teachers with data on individual reading performance, require them and their principals to identify pupils who need help, and regularly evaluate whether that help is working.

Under the direction of Harry Fogle, the county's new director of elementary schools, all are reviewing last year's reading assessments and re-evaluating pupils' abilities, an effort intended to compile a list of each school's 20 lowest-achieving readers in first through third grades.

Principals will work with classroom teachers and with reading and language arts specialists to develop individualized learning plans for each youngster that could run the gamut from extra reading instruction and tutoring to grouping and regrouping the children as the school year progresses.

"This is going to provide a lot of information," said Gloria Julius, principal of Hampstead's Spring Garden Elementary School. "It will tell us what's working and not working.

"Before, we'd implement a new program, but did it work? I don't know," she added. "There are so many variables. This has helped provide me with the opportunity - it's forcing me, really - to collect that data on individual children and on what we're going to do."

Fogle launched the program in the summer - weeks after Carroll interim Schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker decided to add the responsibility of overseeing elementary education to Fogle's brimming plate. (Fogle has supervised the special education department for nine years.)

He decided to call the initiative PALLs - Principals as Literacy Leaders - as a nod to the pivotal role he believes principals play in their schools.

"I think of them as instructional leaders," he said. "That group is one of the strongest learning environments around."

By tomorrow, each principal must submit to Fogle data supporting the identification of each child among those who need the most assistance.

Principals also must submit the instructional plans developed to support each pupil and the specific areas of weakness identified for each.

The lists will not include special education pupils, who have individualized instructional plans.

School officials will take pains to avoid publicly singling out pupils as among those most in need of specialized reading instruction.

"Those students will be blended in, but they will have been identified," Fogle said. "So when they group and regroup for their [intensive language arts] group, they may be in a smaller group. They may get more time. And they may be taught slightly differently."

In January, the schools will retest the 20 pupils to determine whether progress has been made and to modify instructional plans based on those test results. The children will be tested again at the end of the school year, and the results will be charted and sent to Fogle.

"The neat thing is that this will help not only the 420 students we've specifically focused on," Fogle said. "But in addition to coming up with these 20 at each school, that assessment work will identify other students who are not necessarily a part of this effort but who will receive some additional reading support."

For elementary school principals, such as Spring Garden's Julius, the PALLs program is a chance to focus and intensify teacher efforts under way.

"We're already doing similar things at Spring Garden, but what this is making us do is look at individuals more closely," she said, explaining that previously she evaluated reading progress in terms of entire classes of pupils, entire grades or the whole school.

Now efforts will focus on helping particular pupils improve in the specific areas of reading in which they are struggling, from comprehension and vocabulary to the ability to draw meaning from context clues, such as pictures that accompany text on a page.

"To me, this is a high-stakes endeavor," Fogle said. "I'm real serious about it. There is no question that reading is fundamental to our children's ability to be successful."

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