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Teaching all kids to read

Teaching all kids to read

By BARRY MILLMAN STAFF WRITER, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.

The good news just keeps on coming for Charlotte County Schools.

Just two days after learning the district was among an elite handful to maintain an overall “A” grade for four consecutive years, state leaders announced Friday that Charlotte educators were among Florida’s best at teaching their lowest-achieving students to read better.

Gov. Jeb Bush and Department of Education Commissioner John Winn lauded Charlotte and 14 other districts for improving the reading test scores of more than 60 percent of their lowest-performing students over the last year.

“All the districts topping the list deserve congratulations for increasing student achievement among those who need it most,” Bush said in a statement.

“I am very pleased to see districts focusing on their most struggling students,” Winn said. “In Florida, we want all students to improve and advance. It’s important to recognize the districts that are making learning gains, a significant measure of student achievement.”

Overall, 61 percent of fourth through 10th-graders in Charlotte improved on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Only six districts saw a greater percentage of their lowest-performing readers improve, and only 3 percentage points separated Charlotte from Gilchrist, which topped the list at 64 percent. Other counties whose lowest-performing students did well were Duval, Indian River, Martin, Collier, Miami-Dade, Clay, Franklin, Gulf, Hernando, Lee, Osceola, Palm Beach and Sumter.

“I’m very, very pleased, but not exactly surprised,” said Charlotte School Superintendent David Gayler. “We knew about three years ago that group was struggling, and we made a decision that we were going to really target them.”

Charlotte’s comprehensive battle plan for boosting the reading skills of the district’s students scoring in the bottom 25 percent on the FCAT included widespread, intensive use of technology-based reading programs; individualized improvement plans for the targeted students; and specialized training for almost every school professional in the district, Gayler said.

“We basically decided that, to the greatest degree possible, everyone that comes in contact with our students is going to be a reading teacher,” he said. “All our teachers, paraprofessionals, volunteers and mentors — we made great strides providing them with specialized training so that they would all feel comfortable doing that.”

Gayler said the reading improvement effort was given such a weighty priority, and the corrective strategies so individualized, that school principals sitting down with him to discuss their objectives and goals for the coming year could actually name all their targeted students off the top of their heads.

“I’m just so happy for the kids,” Gayler said. “So many of them have struggled. And reading, after all, is the foundation for all other learning. Next year, I’m going to raise our targets even higher. This is just wonderful news.”

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