Beaufort News

School district hopes for continued growth with two new reading programs

Megan Doyle is rapidly running out of highlighters.

For the Bluffton Middle School social studies teacher, that's a good problem.

It means her students are doing what she's asked -- highlighting key ideas when they read, writing questions in the margins and making connections with other things they've read.

The work in Doyle's class is part of a "reading apprenticeship," one of two new programs to boost reading skills in the Beaufort County School District.

While the apprenticeship program focuses on middle-school social studies classes, students struggling on standardized tests are participating in the other program, called Read 180. That program combines small-group teaching, a software program and independent reading exercises. It focuses on nonfiction and fiction texts that appeal to the students and gives nearly instantaneous feedback on their progress. It's in place at every high school and middle school across the district, except Bluffton Middle School, which doesn't have eighth-graders.

The district hopes to see quick results from Read 180 -- by mid-year standardized tests and midterms, according to Sherry Carroll, district English and language arts coordinator.

Teachers say their students are already showing improvement.

Hilton Head Island High School English teacher Kristen Karszes said Read 180 has boosted her students' confidence.

"That's what a struggling reader needs," she said. "That carries across to anything they do in high school."

Denise Huntsman, a reading interventionist at Whale Branch Middle School, said about 90 percent of her Read 180 students scored higher than an 80 percent on a recent exam.

"These are the best results I've ever had," Huntsman said. "You never know what's going to happen until you get the data, and this says it's working."

Doyle said she's noticed a difference in her students' behavior, too. They're raising their hands, taking turns to talk and respecting each others' ideas -- not always easy for middle-schoolers.

"Middle school is a very social time," she said. "This gets them socializing constructively. It gives them a voice and gets them thinking critically."

The programs are part of an ongoing focus on literacy in the district. In the past three years, district figures show, on average, that about 9 percent more students are reading on grade level in kindergarten through eighth grade in 2011 than in 2009.

Carroll attributes that rise to the placement of literacy teachers and coaches in all schools that serve kindergartners through eighth-graders. But there's more progress to be made, particularly as students get older. Carroll said the new programs are aimed at increasing graduation rates and helping students succeed in college.

"We've gone from roughly 40 percent of our students not really being ready for high school to basically a little over 20 percent in three years," Carroll said. "We've made a definite impact, but we want to make sure we're putting things in place for those kids at risk of not passing their graduation tests or not getting into college."

Eventually, teachers in other subjects might use the techniques in social studies classrooms.

Doyle said that means students will take control of their learning, rather than relying on memorization and listening to lectures.

"With this, they are in charge of acquiring knowledge," she said. "I'm just there to guide them in the right direction."

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Related content:County shifts 20 teachers in move to step up reading education; April 18, 2009

Schools district bulking up classroom libraries; Feb. 21, 2010

County students outperform state in three subjects on PASS test; July 21, 2011