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New District 196 program targets reading

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District is putting some new systems in place to help make sure students get the help they need to hone their reading skills at an early age.

In the summer of 2011, Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation called Reading Well By Third Grade that required all school districts in the state to ensure students are developing literacy skills at the proper rate. The law requires new professional development opportunities for all teachers, systems to notify parents if students are struggling and new reporting to the state.

It was a requirement teaching and learning director Steve Troen said fit well with what District 196 was already doing.

"We were in the midst of a comprehensive review already," Troen said Monday, the day he presented the district's plan to the school board. "The Read Well By Third Grade kind of came alongside what we already had in motion."

The District 196 plan includes a modification of the school calendar so elementary teachers can meet with students before the start of the school year and assess their reading level. Teachers had already been performing those kinds of assessments, but they took place while other lessons were going on and with the distractions of other students in the classroom. Troen called the new one-on-one time "huge" for teachers.

The plan also includes new software that tracks student literacy and helps teachers intervene when students need help.

The district has also created a literacy intervention position at each of its 18 elementary schools. That teacher will spend part of his or her time in the classroom and the other part working on literacy-focused professional development and coaching for other teachers.

All of the district's elementary school staff will get training this year on new assessment tools to make sure everyone is on the same page when school starts in September.

The district has also tried to find more time in its schedule for small-group and one-on-one help for students who need it the most.

"Some kids need more time and support than others," Troen said.

There are no specific numbers for how many District 196 students struggle with reading. The district's elementary school principals are assembling that information to submit to the state. Troen said most District 196 students are proficient in reading, but he said it is important to make sure students have a grasp on basic reading skills early in their school careers.

"If students are reading proficiently early, that helps with their success throughout their education," Troen said. "It's really upon schools and upon teachers and educators to intervene as early as possible and to be targeted in the intervention. If two or three students are struggling, it doesn't mean they're struggling with the same issue."

Troen hopes this program will help ensure fewer students are struggling at all.