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OKC district steps up focus on reading instruction

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Putnam Heights Elementary students show the books they picked out inside the Rolling Thunder Book Bus, 9-11-2014.  mh
  • Putnam Heights Elementary students show the books they picked out inside the Rolling Thunder Book Bus, 9-11-2014. mh

Oklahoma City school district officials have their sights set on improving reading performance as half of all third graders failed to score proficient on the end-of-year test.

The percentage of proficient third-grade students has actually dropped from 59 percent in 2010 to 51 percent last year, although that is based on end-of-year tests that have varied over the years.

“We’ve just got a lot of work to do in elementary reading,” said Aurora Lora, associate superintendent of student achievement for the Oklahoma City Public School District.

Lora, who was hired this year by new superintendent Robert Neu, said she has found a school district that lacked any uniform approach to reading curriculum.

“Before last year, we were not teaching 90 minutes of reading at all of our schools,” Lora said. “Kids need 90 to 100 minutes of reading instruction a day. Every district I have worked in has had a 90-minute reading block.”

Lynne Hardin, chairwoman of the school board, said she found the lack of daily, 90-minute reading instruction, shocking, especially when it is the norm in many other school districts.

“It is absolutely stunning to me,” Hardin said. “How can we expect our students to do as well as other schools when they are doing half of the reading?”

In addition to spending at least 90 minutes a day on reading instruction, Lora said students struggling with reading comprehension will receive an additional 30 minutes to an a hour a day. Literacy team members also have been meeting with school principals to review data and discuss reading techniques based on successful models.

Lora said mandates that come from the central office work because they put everyone on the same page.

“We heard there was some pushback from some schools [last year] to do 90 minutes of reading,” Lora said. “We have made it mandatory.”

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