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Union elementary schools post double-digit reading test gains, unofficial scores show

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When classes start Wednesday for Union Public Schools, the faculty members at the district’s elementary schools will have a little something extra to celebrate.

Unofficial scores from Oklahoma State Testing Program released to districts earlier this summer indicate all of 13 Union’s elementary sites posted double-digit reductions in the number of students requiring a reading remediation plan under Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act.

“There is growth,” said Theresa Kiger, executive director for elementary education at Union. “As I’ve explained it to our Title I families, it’s like an onion: We have to take some time and peel back the layers — as we’re not necessarily going to see huge growth immediately. Our children have holes in instruction from past two and three years, so we’re having to go back and fill those holes in. This way, we can continue to see the growth moving forward.”

Students who test at the 40th percentile or lower at the beginning of the school year qualify for additional remediation efforts during the course of the year.

Depending on a student’s individual needs, that may mean some small-group time going over a specific area such as vocabulary or comprehension; additional intensive one-on-one work; or, at a handful of sites, getting tabbed for sessions with a volunteer from Reading Partners.

“We have kids who come to us at various levels and with various knowledge gaps,” Jarman Elementary School Principal Shawna Thompson said. “Their life and language experiences impact their readiness for reading.”

Jarman posted a 20% decline in the number of students on an intervention plan over the course of the 2021-22 school year.

Along with intentionally embedding intervention time into the school day and regular meetings among the staff to review and discuss students’ growth, Thompson said the district’s ability to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to bring in several retired teachers as interventionists was a game-changer for her students.

“We have three retired teachers who come in weekly to tutor and help with small groups,” Thompson said. “We call them our ‘Golden Girls,’ and they are absolutely amazing.”

That additional help was also a boon for Thompson’s counterpart at Andersen Elementary, Bethany Harper.

Andersen posted a 14% decrease in the number of students on a reading intervention plan over the course of the 2021-22 school year.

Harper said she has already taken steps to make sure her school has additional interventionists on hand for the coming year to help continue building on students’ progress.

“The trick has been finding them,” she said.

Meanwhile, another Union school is incorporating some different methods to help bolster reading progress among students.

Shana Harris is the principal at Jefferson Elementary School, a Title I site just east of U.S. 169 between 81st and 91st streets. Among all Union elementary schools, her school had the largest percentage increase of third-graders testing proficient or better in reading, going from 49% in 2021 to 75% in 2022.

In addition to pulling out students as needed for individual reading help, faculty at Jefferson prioritize relationship-building and instilling hope in their students. Along with daily community time, the teachers and staff talk with students regularly about goal setting, what that means, the pathways needed to achieve those goals and how teachers can help them reach those goals.

“We know that if our students feel loved and taken care of, that’s the first thing,” Harris said. “If they have hope ... then they’re going to strive. They are going to reach for their goals. That’s just the nature of people — if you don’t have hope, you don’t try for anything bigger or better. That’s the first base, then they can reach for their academic goals. And it is starting to work.”

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