When Kay Hayes plans reading lessons for her third-graders at Mount Airy Elementary School, the 29-year teaching veteran frequently ends up on something of a scavenger hunt while rummaging for instructional materials.
"Now, you have to go searching," she said. "You go to the reading books in the school storage room. Each grade level also has a storage site. And then we each have our own supply of materials we've collected over the years. We kind of beg and borrow from each other."
But a new collection of books introduced at the school this week - nearly $94,000 worth of teacher guidebooks, lesson planners, pupils' textbooks, intervention handbooks and books targeted for children reading on, below and above grade level - is changing that, teachers and administrators said.
"We've been using all kinds of series in school, and some are newer than others," Hayes said. "This really makes us, as a school and as a system, take reading instruction to a higher level. ... Nothing looks as exciting and as organized as this does."
The reading and language arts program is based on the latest scientific research on reading, directly aligns with the requirements of new federal education legislation and corresponds with the concepts tested by Maryland's new assessment program for third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades, Carroll school officials and representatives of Harcourt School Publishers say.
The series' lead author, Isabel L. Beck, conducted much of the research on which the reading requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act is based. Educational consultants with Harcourt helped the Maryland State Department of Education write the new Maryland School Assessments, which replaced the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program this year.
"No other program is this aligned," Mount Airy Elementary Principal Thomasina Piercy said. "It absolutely will change instruction."
Piercy said that her staff's assessment of the school's previous stash of reading materials was generous. The books from which instructors had been teaching reading were, at best, a decade old and, at worst, up to 13 years old, she said.
"We just didn't have the materials," Piercy said. "We were scrambling. We were handing out Time for Kids, we were downloading off the Internet, we were doing everything we could think of. Now, this is like, yes, [Harcourt] didn't just base their series on sound research. What they have done is transferred research into instruction."
Jane Kennedy, an educational consultant from Harcourt, was at Mount Airy on Monday to provide preliminary training for teachers on the books.
"It's not just saying, `Here's what the new research says. Now go figure out how to apply it,'" she said. "One of the most common reactions I get from teachers is, `This is everything I've had to make on my own. I won't need to make all these instructional decisions on my own anymore.'"
Mount Airy will test the reading materials, which cost the school system nearly $35,000 - about a third of the cost - through an agreement with Harcourt, which absorbed the rest.
Depending on the results at Mount Airy, the program could be phased in at Carroll County's 20 other elementary schools.
Harry Fogle, the school system's director of elementary and special education, said he likes the thoroughness of the reading materials, which include practice exercises and lesson plans for teachers, "grammar jingles" that teach language rules in whimsical ways and books for children for whom English is a second language.
"It's pretty thorough," Fogle said. "It really lays things out. You don't need to be a reading specialist to implement this program because it's all right here."