Focus on reading pays off |

Focus on reading pays off

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Avon Elementary and Edwards Elementary, schools with the largest percentages of students learning English as a second language in the district, made some of the biggest improvements on the Colorado Student Assessment Program, known as CSAP.

Both schools had been marked by steadily decreasing test scores, especially in reading, over the past 10 years. In 2001, 83 percent of Avon Elementary third-graders were proficient or advanced in reading, and by 2007, that number dropped to 21 percent.

The low scores correlate with the large and growing number of students taking the test who know little or no English. Since CSAP is given in English, many students don’t have the ability to even understand the questions, teachers say.

At Avon Elementary about 84 percent of the students have limited or no proficiency in English, and at Edwards, about 61 percent of students are learning English.

Test results released this week show both schools reached their highest reading scores in years.

Last year, only 21 percent of Avon Elementary third-graders scored “proficient” or “advanced” on CSAP reading. This year ” 55 percent made the grade, a 34-point improvement.

With the exception of fourth grade writing and math, Avon Elementary improved in every subject and grade level.

While not changing much in math, writing and science, Edwards Elementary improved in every grade in reading.

Third-graders at Edwards moved from 45 percent of the students scoring proficient or advanced to 55 percent. Fifth grade improved from 40 percent to 56 percent.

The schools also are seeing students dramatically improve in scores as they move from one grade level to the next, a fact that’s easy to miss while sorting through the pages of raw test scores.

For instance, fifth-graders at Avon Elementary scored 47 percent proficiency this year on the reading test, while those same students scored only 24 percent proficiency as fourth-graders the previous year.

Fourth-graders at Edwards Elementary scored 45 percent proficiency in reading in 2007, and as fifth-graders this year, those students scored 56 percent proficiency.

“For me, that’s more amazing ” it shows we can grow kids,” Avon Elementary principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon said.

At the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year, both schools had the goal of improving reading skills, and that’s what they focused on all year.

At Edwards Elementary, teachers had been working hard all year to figure out new ways of giving kids who need help with reading more time to practice, principal Heidi Hanssen said.

In classes like science, math and social studies, where reading generally isn’t the focus, teachers tried to incorporate more reading into lessons for kids who were performing below grade level.

Especially for students learning English, reading takes priority, Hanssen said. When they learn how to read at grade level, they’re able to learn everything else ” math, science, writing and social studies ” much more easily.

“We know the most important thing we can teach a student is how to read,” Hanssen said. “Sometimes, they have to miss other things for reading instruction, but we have to create readers early on. It’s the foundation for everything else.”

The school made a lot of changes to its schedule last year to give kids who needed help with reading about 30 extra minutes a day of practice.

“It will enable them to be more successful at the middle school and high school levels,” Hanssen said.

Avon Elementary is trying quite a few new things. This past year they began a Saturday school for about 38 students in third through fifth grade who needed help with reading and language.

“I think that helps some of the kids needing more time. They get a lot more one-on-one time with teachers,” Rewold-Thuon said.

The school also tried something called “flooding” this year, where everyone in the building ” P.E. teachers, art teachers, aides and specialists” all joined together to teach reading for an hour a day across the entire school.

On Monday, Avon Elementary will begin something else new ” an extended school year for students performing below grade level.

Unlike other summer reading programs, these extra days will be official, mandatory school days where attendance will be taken, and parents will be held accountable to make sure their kids are at school. There will be about 15 days in August, and about 10 more days at the end of the school year.

“Our goal is to be a high achieving school. All we can do is improve the quality of instruction,” Rewold-Thuon said. “There’s nothing wrong with these kids, they’re good kids, smart kids that need a few different accommodations for learning than your mainstream, English-speaking kids.”

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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