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School Board to supply reading coaches

BY LUKE VOELZ | APRIL 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City School Board members said they’re hoping to make the School District’s reading programs more efficient and effective through a program called Instructional Decision Making.

The method would first organize students by their level of reading capability: core instruction, supplemental instruction, and intensive instruction.

A full-time instructional coach would be given to the 16 of the district’s elementary schools, while Lincoln, Shimek, and Hills Elementary Schools would each receive a part-time coach.

Officials began researching the program in 2004; it will begin this summer.

District officials presented the method Monday night because more than 20 percent of district’s elementary students did not meet grade-level benchmarks in reading for in the spring of 2010.

Directions from the Department of Education, the Board of Educational Examiners as well as slowing funding sources for supplemental reading programs also played a role.

The instructional coach would help teach reading classes and work directly with teachers in aiding struggling students. Supporters of the method said coaches would help teachers learn how to suit students’ needs in class, as opposed to the common practice of weekly teacher meetings.

“Instructional coaching is a very powerful way to go as opposed to weekly sessions learning about something disjointed from the classroom,” said special-education instructional coach Amy Sorensen. “This is integrated into the classroom. It’s a partnership, not evaluative.”

The Instructional Decision Making method tries to have at least 80 percent of students in core instruction, with 10 to 15 percent in supplemental instruction, and 5 to 10 percent in intensive instruction.

“Our triangle is just a little skewed at the moment,” said Assistant Superintendent Becky Furlong. “You really need to strive to get that 80 percent of students in core instruction rather than make supplemental instruction bigger.”

Board members said the program would help maintain quality education in the face of potential staff layoffs and budget cuts by streamlining unnecessary costs. For example, assigning coaches to a single school differs from some district procedures, where specialized instructors travel among several schools.

“There are fewer people traveling and less travel costs, more instructional time with the students, and coaches get to know teachers and students better,” said board member Tuyet Dorau. “We’re using limited dollars more efficiently and more affective to the student population. It’s common sense.”

The program would receive federal stimulus funding as well as Title 1 funding, both of which are decreasing and may lead to potential reading staff cuts.

Dorau said the board has considered these funding decreases in its planning, but it is still too early to know the full effect because the state Legislature has yet to settle on education budgets for the year.


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