Parents called key to reading proficiency
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
June 23, 2003
By Jennifer Sterba
Schools need parents' help to help students' reading assessment scores catch up
with the national average, a local teacher says.
The latest round of assessment scores to be released indicates Arizona's fourth-
and eighth-graders can't keep up with the national
norm, which shows one out of three students is reading at or above proficiency
for his or her grade level.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scores, released last
week, indicate less than a quarter of Arizona fourth-
and eighth-graders read at or above a proficient level.
The nationwide test was given to 270,000 students in 11,000 schools across 46
states. Students took the test during the 2001-02 school year. Students who were
in the eighth grade that year, the Class of 2006, also will be the first
Arizona class required to pass the state's AIMS test to earn their diplomas.
Now high school sophomores, those students have witnessed many revisions to the
state's standardized test. Required by No Child Left Behind - the federal laws
governing education accountability - the test and the subsequent curriculum
changes that have taken place to teach to national standards won't be enough to
bring Arizona students up to par with their national peers, said Armando
Valenzuela, an English teacher at Sunnyside High School, 1725 E. Bilby Road.
Parent involvement is still needed.
"What's hurting a lot of our youth is that parents would rather sit down and
watch a reality TV show than sit down and read a book,"
Valenzuela urges parents to remember to take test scores with a grain of salt,
that they reflect students as a group. Parents need to focus their attention on
the individual, he said.
"They should get involved with their own child," he said. "Read with them. Take
the time to go to the library with them."
That's exactly what Midtown parent Michele Antle did with her three children,
ages 10, 14 and 17. Antle, a stay-at-home mom, took her children to the library
at least once a week. They loved participating in the summer reading program,
which rewarded them with gifts for their hours of reading.
Antle taught her children to read by sitting with them in her lap and reading
picture books. She would point to the pictures until the children were old
enough to begin responding to the story.
Today, the Antle house is full of books.
"My mom was the big influence," Antle said. "She was constantly buying them
books since they were born."
Antle's youngest daughter, Mary, reads books even while she's walking through
"The NAEP scores still tell us we have to work very hard on raising
expectations," said Tom Horne, state superintendent of schools. The report also
tells Horne we're headed down the right path to accountability, he said.
While accountability was part of Horne's campaign platform last year, he said
the Department of Education has shifted its focus to helping schools rather than
Horne successfully sought permission to delay labeling failing schools from this
year until fall 2004. That gives schools possibly on their way to a failing
label more time to request help from the state and implement plans for
Twenty-six schools in the Tucson and Sunnyside unified school districts were
labeled underperforming in October.
TUSD, the largest school district in Tucson with about 62,000 students, has
changed its focus from group teaching to more individualized reading
instruction. Students at grade levels eight and younger break into groups of
five or six students to read with a teacher.
Other similarly sized groups in the classroom will work on reading individually
or writing summaries of what they've read while the teacher helps one group at a
time, said Shelly Duran, a literacy specialist for TUSD.
"We're also talking about how are we involving parents," Duran said. "It really
needs to start at the early levels."
TUSD offers family literacy classes at many of its elementary school sites.
The classes vary from teaching English as a second language to parents teaching
parents how to motivate their children. In the latter class, parents learn what
kinds of questions to ask their children about school so they can better assist
their children at home.
Duran says parents interested in taking family literacy classes should contact
their local school for more information. TUSD school contact information is
listed in the phone book and at the district's Web site, www.tusd.k12.az.us/.
* Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at 573-4191 or at