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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Wyoming Teacher Policy Institute
Joan Fuchs, Hot Springs Middle School, Thermopolis, WY

READING AT THE MIDDLE SCHOOL LEVEL

Problem  As standards and assessments in language arts have been implemented, there seems to be a gap in how reading is assessed and how teachers are trained. Method classes for middle and secondary teachers emphasize literature, not reading. It is assumed that students are taught to read in elementary grades and then apply that skill once they reach middle school. Though this is the philosophy behind most middle and high school language arts classes, students are tested on their ability to read, not their knowledge of literature.  
Research Question Is the Thermopolis Middle School (TMS) language arts curriculum meeting the reading needs of TMS students?
Methods  § WyCAS results over a three-year period were used to determine the percent of students proficient in reading and to rank our school with schools of similar size and background. 
§ Terra Nova results over the same three-year period were used to determine the percent of students who read at or above grade level. 
§ Questionnaires were used to determine reading techniques currently used, teacher opinion on student reading ability, and the teacher’s perception of need for teaching reading based on standardized test scores. 
Findings  § WyCAS scores for 8th grade students at TMS have remained fairly consistent. 37-38% of 8th graders are proficient in reading, while 62% are partially proficient or novice readers.
§ When comparing WyCAS results with those of other schools of approximately the same size and socio-economic level, TMS ranks 7th out of 10 in proficiency level, with the number one ranking school having 62% proficient and the lowest ranking school having 28% proficiency.
§ 52-55% of TMS students read at or above grade level based on Terra Nova results. 
§ Before looking at the standardized test data, most teachers (90%) felt that students were reading well in their classes. 
  • The most commonly used reading strategies were reading aloud, read and discuss, and silent reading.
  • 83% of teachers felt that students should be reading at grade level by the time they reach TMS and that specialized classes should be offered to students who were not reading at grade level.
  • Approximately half of the teachers felt that reading was a language arts curriculum piece.
  • 67% of teachers felt that every teacher should be trained in reading strategies.
  • 62% of teachers felt that they did not have time to teach reading as part of their class.
§ After looking at the standardized test data, the “tone” of teachers’ answers on the questionnaire changed.
  • 50% of the teachers felt that the data showed a clear problem, and 50% felt that while students read pretty well, a few student scores needed to improve.
  • 23% of the teachers felt the current nine-week reading course was enough of a reading program for our students.
  • 80% of the teachers felt that the TMS staff needed training in reading strategies to help students read in content areas. Of the comments made by teachers the most significant perhaps was the comment “ …What is needed is time to teach it (reading). You can’t add without losing something. Maybe computers, OREO, business, something?”

Policy Recommendations Recommendation #1: 
Use findings from this study to promote the adoption of a more formal approach to teaching reading. Based on this study, the teachers at TMS voted 100% to dedicate time to staff development that would include reading in the content area. Also, 100% were willing to change scheduling, staffing, and staff development topics in order to accommodate a reading program. The TMS principal supported staff development in reading for the 2002-2003 school year and was willing to take such a proposal to the staff development team meeting.

Recommendation #2: Emphasize the teaching of reading in middle school core courses, including those courses that emphasized literature. 

Recommendation #3: Encourage middle school teachers to revamp lesson plans to include how to read the text in their content area.

Recommendation #4: Research reading programs that specifically target the middle school age group, grants that could help fund such programs, and to be a part of the process of implementing such a program.

 

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