Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2014

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Guinn proposes $10 million for reading program

CARSON CITY -- Using the Clark County School District as a model, Gov. Kenny Guinn is proposing a $10 million program to ensure that every child is able to read by the end of the third grade.

Guinn's Chief of Staff Marybelle Batjer told a joint Senate-Assembly budget subcommittee today the governor feels that being able to read at the end of the third grade is "paramount to their future success" in school.

The program calls for the money being spent to train teachers in the grades from kindergarten to the third grade how to teach reading.

Agustin Orci, assistant superintendent of elementary education in the Clark County School District, said it has a pilot project that has trained about 800 of the 3,000 teacher in the primary grades. So far, he said the students "have shown a significant increase in (reading) level."

Legislators, however, want some guidelines on how the program will be measured.

Assemblyman David Goldwater, D-Las Vegas, the chairman of the subcommittee, wondered if these programs are working at the elementary schools in Clark County, which have been designated as "needing improvements." Orci said there are only two of these trained teachers at Fitzgerald Elementary School where students for the fourth consecutive year have scored in the lower 25 percent in the nation.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said there must be some "accountability" in the program to see if it works. But he added he was "very optimistic" that this was a way to improve student achievement.

Assemblywoman Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, said she needed more details. She said the professional development centers were set up two years ago to train teachers. And there is another program for training. "We have three pots of money for something called training," she said.

Under the division of money, Clark County would receive $3.4 million. Orci said the district has spent about $160,000 so far in its pilot program.

The district, he said has found that teachers "need on the job training" and this is the "highest payoff" in helping schools improve.

Teachers graduating from universities have "at best, one course of reading," Orsi said. This training, he said will make them "reading experts" and is expected to help them teach other subjects.

The teachers are trained during off-classroom hours, during the summer or between sessions. Orsi said the training needs to continue because of the turnover of teachers and the new ones coming into the district.

The $10 million is a one-shot appropriation. But Deputy State Budget Director Don Hataway said it is planned this would be a continuing program, but the money may be reduced as more and more teachers are trained.

Orsi said this program is to get to the students early, rather than having them attend remediation classes because they are failing. And he suggested it might also lead to a reduction in the dropout rate.

To evaluate the program, Orsi said tests will be given fourth graders comparing those who have teachers with the advanced training to pupils who do not.

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