Educators say early start best for reading proficiency

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Clovis Christian School third grade teacher Janella Hill leads her class Wednesday in the “Friendly Letter Song,” a song to learn the five parts of letter writing.

Benna Sayyed

Educators in Curry and Roosevelt counties agree that early intervention is the best method to help develop reading proficiency.

They don’t necessarily agree with two social promotion bills in the state Legislature that propose holding back third-graders in New Mexico public schools if they cannot read at a proficient level.

Clovis Christian third-grade teacher Janella Hill is against social promotion.

“I don’t believe that a student should be promoted just based on their age,” Hill said. “Moving them based on their age may be setting them up for failure. In kindergarten and sometimes even in pre-K we can see that a child’s academic or maturity level is not where it needs to be.”

Deanne Richardson, a third-grade teacher at Texico Elementary, believes that children not proficient in reading should be retained as early as possible.

“Just from my experience in the classroom I believe there are several factors that contribute to lower reading scores,” Richardson said.

“I believe that the economy plays a big factor,” Richardson said. “Both parents have to work and don’t have much time to read to their children.

“I believe that new technology has a role in this also. Students are so enamored with video games that they have little time for studying and reading.”

Richardson offered two methods of ensuring that children become competent in reading before fourth grade:

• small reading groups

• a 90-minute uninterrupted reading block and support staff that helps.

Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Terry Myers said social promotion should be done on a case-to-case basis and retention should be used as a last resort. Myers said early intervention is most effective in pre-K and in kindergarten.

“We need to figure out where it is that these kiddos are struggling,” Myers said, “and bring resources to those teachers or to those instructional coaches or to those reading coaches to help them help children learn to read.”

According to Myers, fewer than 1 percent of third graders in Clovis schools were held back in the 2010-2011 school year.

“I know that Clovis schools are focused on helping students learn to read. Teaching children to read at an early level has been the district’s focus,” Myers said.

Myers offered these strategies of getting students proficient in reading:

• hiring full-time reading coaches, intensive personal development for teachers

• extending the school year 10 to 20 days for students with reading problems.

Debbie Gentry and Joann Bargas teach third grade at Valencia Elementary in Portales.

“I just don’t think that it’s always cut and dry; that you are in third grade so you have to be able to do this, this, this,” Gentry said. “It just doesn’t work that way with children.”

Gentry said children develop at different levels and should be around children their age in an academic setting.

Bargas believes the decision to push a student forward should be handled on an individual basis.