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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Behind those numbers

Ordinarily the District Report Card is a numbers story. It’s always about stats and comparisons and which districts improved and which did not.

Behind those statistics are thousands of personal stories that tell the true nature of learning in ways that No Child Left Behind could never adequately address. I’ll tell one story — that of my middle child, Patrick.

Now going into fifth grade (middle school in Bay Village), Patrick has always struggled with reading. He had a terrible time with phonics that was exacerbated by low confidence. His kindergarten teacher at St. Raphael had requested a conference with me to say that Patrick qualified for Title I reading help.

We were under no obligation to accept help from this federally funded program, she told me. I’m sure my mouth fell open when the teacher explained that some parents refuse the help because of the stigma that their child is not smart.

Puh-leeze! I had already been through teaching one boy to read and I welcomed any and all assistance.

So Patrick worked with a marvelous tutor throughout first grade. He even participated in a summer reading camp through Ohio Reads. However, in second grade we learned that funding was cut and he would be eligible for general education tutoring focused on reading. He worked with his same tutor and made a little more progress.

In third grade, his teacher said she wanted to see how he managed in class. He did okay, his confidence improved slightly but reading remained a struggle.

By fourth grade we had switched him to public school and within the first week his teacher told me he qualified for Title I. I knew he still required the help and felt immense guilt at not having made the switch sooner for his educational benefit. His teacher showed me an entry in his journal that said he was glad to switch to the public school because the kids at his old school teased him about his reading. It broke my heart to see those words on the page. He’s so quiet. He never told me.

Patrick thrived at Westerly School. His reading tutor and his classroom teacher worked closely to ensure his success. And he participated in an extended day program twice a week for several months in preparation of the proficiency tests.

Reading was coming a little easier, but Patrick is very slow and methodical. It’s not that he doesn’t know the answer, it’s that he’s analyzing and thinking critically about a story. He often spots inconsistencies and has a natural curiosity about why things are. Problem is the proficiencies are timed tests. There's no time to ask questions. I knew Patrick needed the practice in reading a short story and answering questions more quickly. His teacher sent home a month’s worth of practice tests and he practiced every night.

Though he is strong in all other subjects, particularly math, I was worried about his performance on the proficiencies for his sake, not mine. I kept that worry to myself and, with the help of his tutor and teacher, prepared him as best we could. He seemed very calm going into the two-week testing period.

On portfolio day we learned that Patrick passed the math, science and citizenship portions of the proficiencies. The reading and writing scores wouldn’t be available until later in the summer.

Those arrived a few weeks ago and Patrick did indeed pass both reading and writing. He even had several areas of strength in writing. He surprised himself and was clearly very proud.

But what illustrates his progress more than anything was the Title I report I received from his tutor at the end of the school year. It was the results of Patrick’s Peabody Individual Achievement Test-Revised (PIAT-R). He had taken a similar test in May 2004 at which time he earned a score of 37 percent. Only one year and a whole lot of work later, he scored a 68 percent — a difference of 31 percentage points!

Next to his score his tutor wrote: “Wow! That is amazing!”

In two weeks, Patrick will start middle school. I ran into his fourth-grade teacher at Heinen’s last weekend and she asked if he was excited about middle school. I said that he was and she assured me he is ready. From the excitement and confidence in his voice I know she’s right.

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