The South-Western City School District has created a reading-improvement plan for the 2019-20 school year to help students who did not earn a proficient or higher score on Ohio's third-grade English-Language Arts assessments.

The district's effort to get students across the finish line for meeting the state's Third-Grade Reading Guarantee got underway soon after the 2018-19 school year ended.

The district held its annual summer reading camp for third-grade students in June.

About 200 students attended the half-day sessions held weekdays mornings June 10-28 at Prairie Lincoln, J.C. Sommer and Harmon elementary schools.

"These are invitational programs offered to families whose children may need a little boost to meet the benchmark set by the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee," said Brian Bowser, the district's executive director of elementary education.

Students are not required to attend, but parents are encouraged to enroll their youngsters in the free program, he said.

Twenty South-Western staff members, including elementary teachers, reading specialists and a handful of intermediate or middle school teachers worked with students at the summer camp, Bowser said.

"It's an opportunity to give students collective and individualized reading instruction with a smaller teacher-to-student ratio than we have during the school year in the classroom," he said.

One of the goals is to encourage students to have "ownership" in their learning, Bowser said.

"We're looking for ways to get them engage and excited about reading," he said.

Students are given books to take home to read over the rest of the summer, Bowser said.

"We want them to stay engaged in reading in July and August to help avoid a 'summer slide,'" he said. "So we give them high quality, exciting books to read."

Keeping students involved in reading over the summer helps keep them from regressing and needing more intervention once the school year begins, Bowser said.

The data from the 2017-18 state report card showed South-Western received a B grade in the component measuring a district's success at improving at-risk K-3 readers.

The district received the B grade by having 59.2% of the 1,570 students who started the school year off track move toward being on track to meeting their expected reading-skill levels.

About 88% of South-Western third-graders met the Third Grade Reading Guarantee to earn promotion to fourth grade and 52% scored proficient on the state's English-Language Arts test.

The test is administered twice a year, and alternative assessments that also provide a pathway to meeting the reading guarantee will be offered in between the state assessments next school year for fourth-graders who did not reach the benchmark the previous school year, said Brad Faust, South-Western's assistant superintendent for curriculum.

The results from the 2018-19 school year are still being compiled, "but the indications are that are results are improving," he said.

"We have more of our third-grade students reading and writing at a proficient level than ever before," Bowser said.

The reading guarantee requires third-grade students to earn a benchmark score on the English-Language Arts test in order to be promoted to fourth grade.

The benchmark score has been raised to 683 for the 2019-20 school year.

Students who do not reach the benchmark move on to the fourth grade with their peers, but continue to receive intervention and instruction to bring their reading skills up to the expected level, Faust said.

Senate Bill 216 requires districts with fewer than 80% of students earning a proficient or higher score on the third-grade English-Language Arts test to create a reading-improvement plan, he said.

"That's the plan we've put together" and the school board has approved, Faust said.

The overall goal for the coming school year is for South-Western to have its third-grade students meet "sufficient progress" standards as defined by the Every Student Succeeds Art, he said.

The federal law, which was signed into law in December 2015 and took full effect in the 2017-18 school year, requires districts to set strategies for meeting the long-term goal of 80% student proficiency on the English language arts assessment, Faust said.

"For this school year, the defined 'sufficient progress' is to reach 62.4% proficiency by the end of the school year," he said.

Districts are expected to reach the 80% threshold within 10 years, and South-Western is around the fourth year mark, Faust said.

"We'd like to do it sooner than 10 years," he said.

As part of its effort, South-Western has reading specialists assigned to each of its 16 elementary schools, Faust said.

The specialists include literacy-collaborative coaches who observe and work with teachers to develop improved instruction methods and reading-recovery staff members who work with student groups and individual students, he said.

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