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State reading program expanded in local elementary schools

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A state-funded program using trained volunteers to teach reading to children from kindergarten to third grade is being expanded in School District 833, according to Rick Spicuzza, assistant superintendent and district director of curriculum and assessment.

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Minnesota Reading Corps implements early-literacy efforts to help struggling readers. The program had volunteers in Newport, Pullman and Woodbury elementary schools last year.

This year, AmeriCorps tutors will also be at Armstrong, Bailey, Hillside, Pine Hill and Royal Oaks elementary schools, Spicuzza told the school board Aug. 20.

"Statewide, AmeriCorp-tutored students are demonstrating a higher rate of proficiency than other Minnesota students at grade three," he said. "In addition, on early literacy tests, reading corp students have demonstrated positive gains for five years."

Pullman Principal Ed Ross said teachers, based on tests, recommend students for tutoring. Tutors also meet and collaborate with reading specialists.

Ross said reading corp volunteer Rebecca Wolters is returning this year.

She is highly qualified and a hard worker, Ross said, seeing 18 to 20 students a day for 20 minutes each.

For her efforts in the Legislature, and with the Minnesota Department of Education, to get the program and the expansion for the coming year, the district gave its inaugural Literacy Award to state Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, at the meeting.

It was a team effort with Alice Seagren, education commissioner, Saltzman said. Toward the end of the session, funding was hard to sustain, she added.

Students must have reading skills by third grade, she said.

"Teachers have noticed the difference," Saltzman said. "Money and luck should not determine whether a child learns to read."

Compared with 78 percent of students statewide who are proficient on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment reading tests, 84 percent are passing tests in District 833, Spicuzza said.

It also means 16 to 20 percent of kids are not meeting state standards, he said.

Though the district rose to fifth on state test results in a list of 10 metropolitan school districts with comparable demographics, there are district schools with "weaknesses," he said.

"While we want to acknowledge our strong performance, that I believe the community, families and staff should take pride in, we can't be satisfied," Spicuzza said.

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Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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