Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/30623NAEPschools2fpmb.html

Parents called key to reading proficiency
June 23, 2003

By Jennifer Sterba

Schools need parents' help to help students' reading assessment scores catch up with the national average, a local teacher says.

The latest round of assessment scores to be released indicates Arizona's fourth- and eighth-graders can't keep up with the national
norm, which shows one out of three students is reading at or above proficiency for his or her grade level.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scores, released last week, indicate less than a quarter of Arizona fourth-
and eighth-graders read at or above a proficient level.

The nationwide test was given to 270,000 students in 11,000 schools across 46 states. Students took the test during the 2001-02 school year. Students who were in the eighth grade that year, the Class of 2006, also will be the first
Arizona class required to pass the state's AIMS test to earn their diplomas.

Now high school sophomores, those students have witnessed many revisions to the state's standardized test. Required by No Child Left Behind - the federal laws governing education accountability - the test and the subsequent curriculum changes that have taken place to teach to national standards won't be enough to bring Arizona students up to par with their national peers, said Armando Valenzuela, an English teacher at Sunnyside High School, 1725 E. Bilby Road.

Parent involvement is still needed.

"What's hurting a lot of our youth is that parents would rather sit down and watch a reality TV show than sit down and read a book,"
Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela urges parents to remember to take test scores with a grain of salt, that they reflect students as a group. Parents need to focus their attention on the individual, he said.

"They should get involved with their own child," he said. "Read with them. Take the time to go to the library with them."

That's exactly what Midtown parent Michele Antle did with her three children, ages 10, 14 and 17. Antle, a stay-at-home mom, took her children to the library at least once a week. They loved participating in the summer reading program, which rewarded them with gifts for their hours of reading.

Antle taught her children to read by sitting with them in her lap and reading picture books. She would point to the pictures until the children were old enough to begin responding to the story.

Today, the Antle house is full of books.

"My mom was the big influence," Antle said. "She was constantly buying them books since they were born."

Antle's youngest daughter, Mary, reads books even while she's walking through stores.

"The NAEP scores still tell us we have to work very hard on raising expectations," said Tom Horne, state superintendent of schools. The report also tells Horne we're headed down the right path to accountability, he said.

While accountability was part of Horne's campaign platform last year, he said the Department of Education has shifted its focus to helping schools rather than punishing schools.

Horne successfully sought permission to delay labeling failing schools from this year until fall 2004. That gives schools possibly on their way to a failing label more time to request help from the state and implement plans for improvement.

Twenty-six schools in the Tucson and Sunnyside unified school districts were labeled underperforming in October.

TUSD, the largest school district in Tucson with about 62,000 students, has changed its focus from group teaching to more individualized reading instruction. Students at grade levels eight and younger break into groups of five or six students to read with a teacher.

Other similarly sized groups in the classroom will work on reading individually or writing summaries of what they've read while the teacher helps one group at a time, said Shelly Duran, a literacy specialist for TUSD.

"We're also talking about how are we involving parents," Duran said. "It really needs to start at the early levels."

TUSD offers family literacy classes at many of its elementary school sites.

The classes vary from teaching English as a second language to parents teaching parents how to motivate their children. In the latter class, parents learn what kinds of questions to ask their children about school so they can better assist their children at home.

Duran says parents interested in taking family literacy classes should contact their local school for more information. TUSD school contact information is listed in the phone book and at the district's Web site, www.tusd.k12.az.us/.

* Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at 573-4191 or at jsterba@azstarnet.com