By Mark Newman
Iowa’s governor says many school districts could learn a thing or two from Moravia schools.
“I think you have a good strategy,” Terry Branstad told teachers and administrators Tuesday.
Moravia Superintendent Brad Breon had just taken the governor and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds through a presentation on the district’s upcoming plan to improve student success.
After they were elected, the administration had a state conference on education, and Reynolds encouraged districts to focus on reading.
Moravia will pursue the state reading program starting with the next school year, with some added flourishes of their own designed to get kids more excited about being good readers.
Teachers will have tools, too, said high school Principal Kathy Carr. Multiple assessments throughout the school year will map student reading ability using an instant test on the computer. Teachers will see results right away, so they’re not sitting around wondering where kids need help.
“For example,” added Julie Sealine, a newly hired reading specialist for Moravia, “a teacher may be able to see the kids are all having trouble in [reading] fluency, so they know what to do.”
And can get backup from their colleagues.
But, as required, the program will also include the controversial “third-grade retention” rule, in which kids who don’t meet literacy requirements are held back a grade.
Breon did tell Branstad and Reynolds that he is “not a big fan” of that aspect of the governor’s blueprint on education.
“Really, that third-grade retention piece is meant as a last resort,” Branstad said.
“So much of math and science involves reading,” added Reynolds.
But Moravia may have done some creative problem solving in how it would apply the measure. Students would be held back — in reading class. But they would progress to the next grade level in all their other classes, like math and science. They would also get intensive reading instruction.
In fact, by starting early in a student’s school career, Breon said, he hopes the district can avoid having to worry about holding any student back.
The governor agreed.
“I think the intensive effort early on can cause some kids to never fall behind,” he said, “or to be identified as special ed.”
In fact, a large number of kids who do poorly in school, or require special education placement, started out falling behind their more successful classmates in reading.
“What we find is those kids will fall further and further behind each year,” Branstad said. “Let me ask you, is there any part of this that tries to get parents involved?”
“Huge,” said Sealine, “but it starts with reading at home.”
The district and Sealine herself will work to make connections with parents. She said special education parents are especially involved with their children’s education.
Reynolds said she was glad Moravia saw the importance of parent involvement. It’s mentioned by most educators, but usually as a concern for teachers trying to reach out to families.
“Not every district has parents involved,” Reynolds said.
The governor said he knew the district was doing something right when he met a gymnasium full of enthusiastic but respectful Moravia students earlier that day.
“There are steps you’re taking here that could be used as a model,” Branstad said.