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Published in Print: March 1, 2000, as Dallas Reading Initiative Produces Limited Results

Dallas Reading Initiative Produces Limited Results

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An intensive professional-development program for K-3 teachers in the Dallas schools has significantly changed teaching practices in some classrooms, but has not directly affected students' test scores, a report concludes.

"It has definitely led to a change in teachers' instructional behavior in the classroom and the types of strategies and techniques they used," said Katy Denson, the director of reading and social studies evaluation for the 156,000-student district and the report's author. "It did not show up in test scores last year, but hopefully ... once they've had a chance to use what they've learned ... we'll see a change."

The recent evaluation of the reading initiative, unveiled to fanfare in 1997, focused primarily on the effectiveness of new professional-development programs, particularly the Dallas Reading Academy. Some 600 teachers participated in the six-credit graduate course last year, and a majority reported that they were more informed about reading issues and spent more time on reading and writing activities as a result of their participation. About 800 teachers are enrolled this year, and administrators hope that all the district's early-elementary teachers will eventually participate.

Combining Approaches

The academy, the foundation of the initiative, includes extensive classroom observations and assistance from expert reading teachers. All the district's K-3 teachers received less intensive in-service training in reading.

The 3-year-old reading initiative—created in response to the statewide reading program developed under Texas Gov. George W. Bush—calls for teachers to combine phonics instruction with elements of whole language in an attempt to ensure that students are reading at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade. Phonics stresses the sounding out of words, while whole language addresses comprehension as well. Last year, Dallas pushed back its deadline for achieving that goal from 2001 to 2003.

Even though 25 percent of 3rd graders in the district failed the state reading test last year—compared with 12 percent statewide— it was a significant improvement over 1997, when fewer than two-thirds of students at that grade level passed. On the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, 3rd graders in the district scored in the 48th percentile, a slight improvement over the year before. But the data are inconclusive, and the gains cannot be linked to the reading plan, Ms. Denson said.

The district has run into some implementation hurdles.The head of its reading program quit, and the business community has been late in donating the money it pledged for the enterprise.

Vol. 19, Issue 25, Page 11

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