Reading, English Language Arts and Mathematics are at the core of every child’s education in Louisiana, but some kids are still not able to read – or read at grade level.

Mitchell
Mitchell

In the instruction, supervision and curriculum committee Thursday, that very issue was at the heart of the discussion. Webster Parish School Board Member Frankie Mitchell, District 9, says the idea of the meeting was to explore options to keep children from falling through the cracks.

“We are to value instruction as the most important responsibility,” she said. “Whatever we do, the most important responsibility is the value of instruction for our children.”

Marty Kilgore, Title II staff development facilitator with the Webster Parish School Board, presented some figures and benchmarks over the last four years for third grade students throughout the parish.

The results come from the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, Kilgore said.

“That is a screener and it lets us know which of our students are on grade level, which ones are at some risk and which ones are at great risk for being successful readers,” she said.
She says after doing some research, Connie Busby found indicators that possibly show why some students are not reading at grade level.

“Mrs. Busby discovered that when the state started cutting the number of preschool and Head Start classes, not as many children were receiving that preschool education before entering our public schools,” Kilgore said. “So there’s a direct correlation there. These kids are starting way behind.”

She says this means that almost a third of their students are entering first grade well below benchmark.

Figures show in kindergarten in the fall of 2011, the state showed 53 percent of students who are reading at grade level. Webster Parish’s percentage was at 43 percent. Third grade figures for that same year show the state at 60 percent and Webster Parish at 53 percent. The figures also show that by the end of the school year, the percentage of students in Webster Parish increased for both kindergarten and third grade.

By the fall of 2014, kindergarten students rose from 53 percent in 2011 to 56 percent in 2014. Third grade’s figures show an increase to 63 percent.

However, the state is addressing the preschool issue by mandating the school system oversee education for children in Head Start as well as day care centers.

Sam Mims approached the school board in February saying he learned a third grader at J.L. Jones is not able to read. His church, The Shepherd’s Hut, adopted the third grade class at the school to help provide for their needs in order to provide a more conducive learning environment. However, he says he does not feel a child should be promoted to the next grade until they are at grade level, especially in reading.

Jones Principal Dusty Rowland says they cannot hold a child back due to provisions in the Pupil Progression Plan, a state-mandated plan. She says at least a quarter of her students were not educated in Webster Parish schools before entering her school. In other words, they came from other school districts or from other states. That plays a factor into it, she said. Some students are also home-schooled.

Some of the ways they are combating the lack of reading skills by some is through interventionists. Kilgore says Title I schools have interventionists that come in to work specifically with children who are not hitting the reading target. Teachers block out a period of time during class time to work with these children at schools that are not Title I.

They also use a phonics program called Project Read.

With curriculum changes constantly taking place right now, parent universities are also conducted to help the parents help their children. The time is set aside after school so that parents can meet with their child’s teachers and learn how their kids are learning.

The results from the committee will be brought before the board at the March 7 meeting.