Reading program favored in survey

Most sixth-grader parents give initiative high marks

lack of feedback criticized

August 13, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Most Anne Arundel County parents approve of the new sixth-grade reading program that provides two periods of language arts instruction every day by taking time away from electives, according to a survey ordered by the county school board.

But many of the 3,115 parents surveyed said they wanted more information from teachers about their children's reading progress.

The survey, the results of which were released last week, was conducted by the school system in May to help gauge the success of a reading program that has been criticized by parents who wanted to preserve elective courses. Two-thirds of parents who responded to the survey said the program increased their children's progress in reading and writing, and 90 percent believed their children to be good readers.

"We were gratified by the response," said Ruth Bowman, the school system's reading coordinator. "Eighty percent of parents responded that their children talk about what they read and would like to read. That's exciting."

But the results of the survey have not ended the debate over the value of the program. The very fact that the school system wrote and conducted the survey led some parents to question the validity of its findings.

Critics said the questions - such as whether parents believed their child is a better reader this year than last year - were designed to elicit favorable responses.

"They didn't ask the right questions," said Terra Ziporyn Snider, the mother of a Severna Park Middle School pupil who is entering seventh grade. "You would hope that after another year of school they'd be a better writer and reader. But that doesn't tell you whether the program worked."

Snider said the survey should have asked parents if they felt the trade-off - more reading time instead of electives - was worth it. She also said it should have asked if parents got written feedback on their children's work. She said she didn't.

"You see the `A' on the report card, but that's all you see," Snider said.

She said she checked the "I don't know" box on many survey questions because she hadn't received any measures of her daughter's work.

School system officials have said they will send brochures about the program to parents in the fall and will train teachers to improve their communication with parents.

"All of us need to make sure we keep parents as fully aware as we possibly can," Bowman said. "We need to look at how we can better communicate children's progress."

Many of the parents' complaints about communication were expressed in the written comment section of the survey, which has not been released; officials said those responses are still being compiled. They also did not release the results of a spring survey of the sixth-graders themselves.

Most areas of the parent survey, Bowman said, showed that parents approved of the new reading program - and the time it consumed. Fewer than 10 percent of parents thought their children were spending too much time reading and writing during the school day, according to the survey.

Alison Thompson of Laurel was part of that minority. She said she has two problems with the time devoted to "silent reading" - at least 20 minutes a day. First, she said, her daughter reads at home and that time at school would be better spent on electives such as physical education or family and consumer science.

Second, she said, the books her daughter was assigned were below her reading level.

"The reading she did in school was easy work," Thompson said. "It was not any challenge to her at all."

In an interview last week, before the survey results were released, Anne Arundel Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he would assess the reading program this year and that any changes would be made for the fall.

"We're still evaluating what we might do," he said, noting he was looking at reading beyond just sixth grade. "You don't fix reading in grade six. You fix reading in kindergarten."

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