Literacy and equality

T.W. Andrews High School English teacher Toi Jackson said her students are enjoying what they’re reading for the first time in the eight years she’s been teaching.

“This collection offers life conversations and it has students thinking outside the box, ” Jackson said. “In the few weeks we’ve used it, I’ve seen the level of thinking go up.”

Jackson was one of the teachers and Guilford County Schools administrators who spoke in favor of continuing balanced literacy efforts with American Reading Company during the Board of Education meeting last week.

Andrews, Smith and Dudley were the first local high schools to receive ARC resources, including spring break take-home reading kits for students and genre fiction with realistic teen issues and characters that look like the diverse student population.

While teachers praised the literacy materials, others have questioned whether the program requires teachers to follow a script and meets the needs at higher reading levels. The school board expects to discuss the literacy program again at its meeting Tuesday, May 10.

The school board had requested more information about the literacy program its staff recommends continuing next school year and beyond 2021. Last week, they reviewed the latest reports showing alarming gender, racial and income gaps in students’ reading proficiency.

Board member Deena Hayes expressed disgust at seeing GCS 2015 reading gap figures that showed only 33.3 percent of black males and 34.8 Hispanic males in grades 3-8 were reading proficiently according to grade level, compared with 51 percent of Asian males and 70 percent of white males. Those numbers are in contrast to 41 percent of black girls reading proficiently and 45 percent of Hispanic girls at the same grade levels while 60 percent of Asian girls and 75 percent of white girls were reading proficiently at grade level.

“We’re going to do something about this because it’s wrong,” Hayes said. “We have statistical data and what we have is not working. We’ve got to stop looking for the model and we need to be it.”

Keith McCullough, who graduated from Andrews, said he is concerned about students being left behind because they aren’t well-enough prepared to qualify for Say Yes to Education last-dollar tuition grants. “They came down here and talked a good game,” he said, referring to national Say Yes leaders. “I still haven’t bought it yet. Let’s do what we’re elected to do. It’s about the students.” McCullough said he could relate to the low reading proficiency of black boys. “I was one of those students,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to succeed.”

Darlene Garrett has questioned whether the materials meet the rigors of students who are more academically gifted. “I know we need to help our struggling schools and our struggling readers but I’m concerned about the high end, the AP courses,” she said. “I am totally against a one-size-fits-all because we don’t have a school system that’s one-size-fits-all across the board.”

Vice chairman Amos Quick spoke in favor of the ARC program. “This provides a lot of opportunity for students to select books they have interest in,” he said. “The diversity of reading material is important. Not everybody is going to get Shakespeare, just like not everybody gets the King James version of the Bible. In the absence of something else, we continue to have these gaps widening.”

Teachers have started professional development to prepare for the changes and will continue with training during the summer. Parents also will have opportunities to learn more about how they can support reading at home.

GCS students are further impacted by poverty than in the past, Jeff Belton said. He likes the strategy of addressing that by sending books home, even if paperback books return damaged. “I hope we do spend more money on replacing because I hope these books get slap worn out,” Belton said.

The High Point Enterprise BY CINDE INGRAM ENTERPRISE STAFF WRITER Reproduced with permission.

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