Reading First helps students learn to read. And when you start to cut Reading First, it doesn’t work so well anymore.
That’s the short version of a presentation on the reading program used in Hannibal’s elementary schools to raise reading scores. It was a key component of the successful effort to get Hannibal off the state’s “in need of improvement” list.
And Reading First is one of the programs Board of Education members are agonizing over as the district enacts deep cuts in academic programs to meet a huge cut in state aid. The Reading First program is taking its share of cuts.
The federally-supported Reading First program is intended to apply proven tools for improving reading in a way that can be measured. The district received money to begin the program, with the understanding that the money for reading coaches and equipment was only for a few years; the district would have to begin to pick up the cost of the program within a few years.
Elementary Principal Roseann Schoonmaker showed board members reading data for the lower elementary grades.
Her numbers showed dramatic drops in the numbers of students struggling with reading or unable to read at grade level, while the number of students showing success rose quickly.
The numbers peaked in the 2006-2007 school year. That, said Schoonmaker, was the last year that the district fully-funded the program.
That year, she said, Fairley Elementary School had 31 classroom teachers. Next year, there will be only 25. The program had a Reading First coordinator, two reading coaches, a building Principal and an Assistant Principal. There hasn’t been an Assistant Principal in a couple of years and the program will be down to a single reading coach next year.
“When you have that kind of support, you can see what a difference it makes,” she said.
Since 2006-2007, the numbers of students in the top ranks has begun to fall and the numbers of students in the lower and middle ranks has begun to rise again.Â The district is giving back the hard-earned gains.
“The money’s going away and we’re trying to band-aid things,” Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio admitted. “We’re going to lose ground because of finances.”
Board members have repeatedly mentioned Reading First as a program they’d like to save, but cuts to the program — and many others — were part of DiFabio’s recommendations in the district’s proposed budget, which will be voted on next week.