School district focusing on supporting early readers

School District 68 is going back to the basics to boost student achievement.

School District 68 is going back to the basics to boost student achievement.

Assistant superintendent Chris Southwick said high school completion rates for Nanaimo continue to lag below provincial averages.

Educators hope that identifying struggling readers and giving them support at a young age will help those students become more successful learners because they won’t spend the rest of their years in public school trying to catch up, she said.

The district started a pilot project in four elementary schools where teams of Grade 2 teachers work collaboratively to develop a system of supports for at-risk early readers.

Last year, a budget proposal to fund a system-wide focus on early reading skills failed because it meant cuts elsewhere. Southwick said school officials hope to find the money required to make the pilot project district-wide in future years.

“There’s an old saying: Learn to read so you can read to learn,” she said. “That is so true. We get our information mostly by reading.”

Another area of focus is building success for Aboriginal students.

Southwick said the district is seeing some success in this area because six-year completion rates for those students rose from 43.1 per cent in 2009-10 to 52.1 per cent in 2010-11. She believes the improvement is due to a concerted effort by district staff at all levels but acknowledged the district still has a long way to go.

Goals laid out in the district’s annual report on student achievement are: to increase student pass rates on required provincial exams by five per cent by spring 2014; to have all students who are able meeting or exceeding expectations at the Grade 4 reading level by spring 2014; and increased completion and grade-to-grade transition rates.

Plans are to create a district-wide plan for success for each learner to help support these goals, which means putting information about students on a server so teachers have instant access to information from previous years, allowing educators to compare students from one year to the next, said Southwick.

“We don’t track students individually right now other than report cards,” she said.

School board chairman Jamie Brennan said one of the challenging areas identified in the achievement report that troubles him is the gap between female and male students — 71 per cent of females achieved a C+ or better in Socials 11 last year, compared with just 59 per cent of males.

“Male students in particular are seen as having a difficult time,” he said. “The best we can get is it’s really complicated.”

He said some new models of instruction might be more effective at reaching boys.

The school board has referred the achievement report to the education committee for more discussion.