December 22, 2014

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Lorain reading program may be failing

LORAIN — The Success for All reading improvement program may not be living up to its name.

With Lorain Schools in academic emergency and controlled by a state Academic Distress Commission, the district is considering dumping the program.

Several alternative programs will be considered by staff in a combined five exhibitions in the next two weeks beginning today, said Superintendent Tom Tucker.

Tucker, who said a decision would be made before the new school year begins in August, downplayed the significance of a possible switch.

Tucker said school districts regularly review reading programs. “It’s not the first time this district’s done it and it won’t be the last time,” he said.

However, the stakes are high. Improved reading scores are key to control beings restored to Lorain — one of just two Ohio districts controlled by an unelected commission. Lorain failed to meet reading standards on the 2011-12 annual Ohio Department of Education state report card.

Lorain, taken over last month, needs to score a C or better on report cards for two out of three straight years to restore local control. Or Richard Ross, Ohio superintendent of instruction, could disband the commission if he decides Lorain can perform adequately without it.

The possible switch also comes with greater emphasis on reading by the state. The Third Grade Reading Guarantee begins in the 2013-14 school year.

The new law calls for all Ohio third-graders to demonstrate a “level of competency” in reading to advance to fourth grade or repeat third grade.

Tucker, hired in August, was noncommittal about retaining Success for All, a program in which federal taxpayer money pays teachers to teach the curriculum developed by the Success for All Foundation, a Baltimore, Md.-based nonprofit group.

The program, begun in 2008-09, was brought in by former Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson who left Lorain in 2011 to become superintendent of DeKalb County Schools outside Atlanta.

Atkinson also brought the program to DeKalb, for about $4.6 million for three years, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Tucker on Sunday night said he didn’t know how much is spent on the program annually and Treasurer Dale Weber didn’t return a call.

In February, three weeks after abruptly leaving DeKalb, Atkinson took a job with the foundation. The foundation’s website said the program has been proven in “federally funded gold-standard research and in schools across the country for 25 years.”

However, the Journal Constitution reported DeKalb is considering dumping it and some teachers believe it is too scripted and was forced on them by Atkinson.

Jim Smith, a Lorain Board of Education member and frequent Atkinson critic, said a few longtime teachers he spoke to criticized the program saying it lacks support programs unlike competing programs. Smith said he’ll seek input from commission members before he makes any votes on whether to switch programs.

The commission, which is scheduled to receive recommendations from the department on Lorain’s academics at the commission’s May 20 meeting, controls all final academic decisions by board members.

“It’d be rather silly for the board to adopt a reading program only to find that the commission was not in favor of that particular program,” Smith said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.