OKLAHOMA CITY (June 9, 2014) — For many Oklahoma kids who need help improving their literacy skills, summer break offers an opportunity to slow down and focus on reading. In schools throughout the state, summer reading academies and similar programs are growing in popularity.
Under the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) , third-grade students at risk of being retained are eligible for promotion to the next grade upon successful completion of a summer reading academy or other program. The law requires retention and remediation for third graders who score Unsatisfactory on the state reading test or score below minimum third-level proficiency on district-selected formative assessment or do not receive an exemption.
“Summer reading academies are a smart and effective route for many children with reading difficulties,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi. “More and more school districts are offering such programs, which are certain to go a long way toward giving kids the gift of reading.”
As outlined by the RSA, summer reading academies:
- last four weeks with four half-days weekly,
- incorporate content of a scientifically based reading program,
- are taught by teachers who have received professional development in reading instruction, and
- are open to students who score below a benchmark on midyear reading assessments.
In the northern Oklahoma town of Collinsville, Wilson Elementary School’s summer reading academy kicked off June 2. While its program has been offered for several years now, the RSA’s provision on third-grade reading retention prompted the school to strengthen efforts.
“We decided that we were going to step our game up in the summer reading academy so we could meet those needs,” Principal Cheryl Hunt said.
This year, Wilson added second graders to the program for the first time. Six teachers work with five or six students apiece in the reading academy, with the groups divided by specific needs.
Kids receive breakfast if they haven’t eaten before they arrive at school. There are literacy warm-up exercises for students who show up before the 9 a.m. start time.
Once class starts, things get moving.
“We try to have something different every 30 minutes, so that it all involves reading but it’s moving with a purpose,” Hunt said.
The students cycle between lessons and practice, visiting the motor lab on campus and joining other classes for larger group activities. Hunt said participants take regular trips to the town library nearby to register for library cards and hear from the librarian.
“As we dismissed today (June 2), there were three or four students coming around the corner who were saying, ‘Wow, summer school is cool; I didn’t know it was like this,’” Hunt said.
For students in Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS), summer is an opportunity to continue intensive reading programs outside of the regular school year. Like the program in Collinsville, OKC students will cycle between lessons, group practice, visits to media centers and different literacy-focused activities.
Oklahoma City’s summer program goes on for two weeks. The district provides specialized reading instruction throughout the year and holds reading-focused programs during its breaks, which last longer than those in most districts as the result of a year-round schedule.
“We’re continuing what we’re doing during the year for our students who need that intensive intervention,” said Jessika Hill, curriculum coordinator for elementary English and language arts at OKCPS.
Students in the OKCPS program were identified in parent-teacher conferences. Once students are determined to need help, their progress is closely monitored.
“We try to make it very targeted, and they’re giving up their break so we try to make it fun as well,” Hill said.
The district also organizes regular community conferences to give parents materials about how their children can put reading into practice and avoid the so-called “summer backslide.” District officials also offer an online component of its reading instruction to encourage reading outside of the classroom.
Engagement at home is key, Hill said.