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Schools look to bolster reading ability
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Although Effingham County students routinely score above state and regional results on standardized tests, school district officials are always looking for improvement.

As a result, the Effingham County Board of Education unanimously approved implementing the Read 180 and System 44 reading initiative in the county’s three middle schools.

“Certainly our scores look great as a system compared to the state and to our RESA (Regional Educational Service Agency) district, and we’re certainly proud of that, but you always have to be on the cutting edge,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said.

Read 180 is a comprehensive learning system that includes teacher instruction with the entire class, small-group instruction, independent reading and instructional computer software. System 44 is the companion program to help students who are reading considerably below grade level, such as those in special education or who do not speak English as their first language.

The school board approved Read 180 and System 44 to help meet the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards that are starting to go into effect this year. As part of the CCGPS, school districts will need to meet new assessment standards in 2014-15, including evaluation of lexile scores — a measure of reading difficulty based on word frequency and sentence length.

“You guys are taking a huge step two years ahead of time to say, ‘let’s address this with these kids early on,’” said Pam Waller, the local representative for Scholastic, the company that provides Read 180 and System 44.

“As a system, I think it’s important that we get a jump-start to where we’re going in the future,” Shearouse said. “Certainly we can’t afford to leave behind those kids who can’t read.”

Bringing the reading initiative to Ebenezer, Effingham County and South Effingham middle schools will cost the school district a little more than $400,000, which Shearouse acknowledges is a “fairly expensive program.” The cost includes classroom materials, computer licenses and Scholastic’s training of the teachers who will be part of the program.

However, revenue from the current E-SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax for education) can help fund the program.

“Spending money on something that could help kids read on the level they need to read is a great use of those funds, without a doubt,” Shearouse said.

Also, Waller said, school districts face minimal expense after the first year of Read 180 and System 44.

“After you purchase the materials, you own them. You continue using them year after year,” Waller said.

“Any additional cost would be if we if we needed more professional learning for staff or if we decided to grow (the program) to ninth grade or any other grade level,” said Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff.

In her presentation to the school board, Waller said Read 180 and System 44 “have a proven track record,” serving 1.2 million students per day across all 50 states. She recounted one of her favorite success stories, of an eighth-grader in Fayette County  who was assessed to have a second-grade reading level.

“Can you imagine that?” Waller asked. “At the end of her eighth-grade year, she was reading on a sixth-grade level. She improved four years in her reading achievement in one year’s time.”

Waller said she attended the honors day program at that student’s school to present her with a Read 180 All-Star Award, an annual award given by Scholastic.

“Those are the kind of results you can expect,” Waller said. “Not every student is going to grow four years, because not every student needs to. But the tools are in place to make that happen.”

Shearouse said, “Hopefully we’ll see great results – maybe not four grade levels, but we’ll take a two grade-level jump.”