New Isle of Wight reading program next year

Published 2:20 pm Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By Matt Leonard


Staff writer

Isle of Wight County schools will implement a new reading program next year to focus on early childhood reading after receiving disappointing PAL and SOL scores in county schools.

The plan, named the 2020 Reading Campaign, was unveiled at Thursday’s school board meeting by Elementary Education Director Susan Goetz.

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“We know we have an issue with reading,” Goetz told the school board. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

In slides presented to the board, Goetz showed the percent of K-3 students who did not meet the benchmark for PAL testing in the fall and spring semesters of the 2013-14 school year — the numbers did not change between the two semesters. Second and third grade saw in increase in the number of students who failed to meet the mark in the spring, according to Goetz.

These numbers should be going down if current programs were performing the way they should, Goetz said. Kindergarten and second grade saw a slight decrease in students who failed to meet the mark in the 2014-15 school year.

The same worrying numbers can be seen in the county’s reading scores for the SOLs, which show a sharp decline between 2012 and 2013.

“We were sitting pretty,” Goetz said. “And then something happened.”

Scores for third through fifth graders dropped about 15 percent in one year — from around 90 percent one year to hovering closer to 75 percent the next.

Isle of Wight wasn’t alone in this drop, though. The state wide average dropped by close to the same margin in all three grades: third went from an 86 percent pass rate to a 72 percent pass rate; fourth grade went from 88 percent to 70 percent; and fifth grade went from 89 percent to 73 percent, according to Virginia Department of Education data.

Goetz told the School Board they were caught off guard by a test that had increased in difficulty in the course of the year. 

She said the schools were aware of the changing standards in the tests, but didn’t know how they would be tested until that year because updated sample questions weren’t available until after the test was given for the first time.

The new reading plan will create a literacy team that will have reading specialists working alongside select teachers and special education administrators.

A needs assessment will be conducted so the schools will know what learning materials they need.

Goetz said a lot of the reading materials in the schools are old and in poor condition, some materials are falling apart or lost, and others are outdated and fail to meet the necessary learning standards.

According to the information she presented to the Board, the last time the school took on a new reading program was in 2004.

The 2020 Reading Campaign will bring in reading consultants to study the needs of the schools and help establish goals.

Over the next couple of months Goetz said local educators will be looking at different reading programs through vendors and observation at schools already using them so they will be ready to start the program next fall.

The goal of the program is to have the kindergarten students who start the program next year reading at grade level by 2020, or when they reach third grade.



·      What it is: PALS, or Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, was created in 1997 at the University of Virginia as an assessment of children’s literacy fundamentals. It is a screening, diagnostic and process-monitoring tool for young elementary age students who are learning to read. It is used by more than 17,000 Virginia teachers in 99 percent of school districts measuring and monitoring about 250,000 students in the state. The assessment pinpoints students who may be falling behind and new further instruction in reading.

·      Scoring: Students are measured against a benchmark that tells teachers if the student is falling behind in reading and literacy.




·      What it is: The Standard of Learning test in Virginia is provided to all third through 12th graders. It is meant to measure individuals, student subgroups and schools to see how they stack up against each other and the state. The data from SOLs is used by the Virginia Department of Education to help close education gaps.

·      Scoring: The passing score for the Virginia SOL tests is 400 based on a reporting scale that ranges from 0 to 600. A scaled score of 0 to 399 means a student did not pass a test. A scaled score of 400 to 499 means a student passed a test and was classified as Proficient. A scaled score of 500 to 600 means a student passed a test and was classified as Advanced. SOL scores are used by the state to determine if schools meet the mark for accreditation.