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Saturday, Jul 26, 2014

Tutor program shows promise

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LARGO — Educating has become an all-day, all-year job in Pinellas County classrooms this year, and during Tuesday’s workshop School Board members got a glimpse of how students in their newest after-school tutoring program have progressed.

The school district and the Juvenile Welfare Board this year launched Promise Time, a free after-school, online tutoring program at 28 high poverty schools — 22 elementary and six middle schools.

About 2,300 students are enrolled in the program, which breaks math and reading tutoring into 60- to 90-minute sessions before or after school in small group lessons, one-on-one work with teachers and individualized practice on the online iReady program.

School district officials track progress with individualized reports from iReady, as well as scores on tests given at the beginning of the school year and in January. A final test will be given in May, said Isabella Torbert, Supplemental Educational Services supervisor.

The school district set a goal for the students to achieve a year’s worth of growth. Based on program data, the students have progressed about 50 percent in reading and 57 percent in math toward that goal. Should the students continue growing at the current rate, all should reach that target, iReady officials said.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t hurdles to overcome.

The iReady program was built to align with the new Common Core standards, so “the rigor is tough,” Torbert said. While elementary students, who already have been exposed to Common Core reading lessons in school, saw strong reading gains from the program, sixth- through eighth-grade students actually saw a drop in reading performance after starting Promise Time. In sixth and seventh grade, about 19 percent of students came into the program reading on grade level, but that dropped to 13 and 14 percent, respectively.

In kindergarten, 72 percent read on grade level, 53 percent of first-graders, 45 percent of second-graders and 27 percent of third-graders. Fourth- and fifth-grade students had stagnant reading growth, hovering at 10 and 12 percent of students on grade level. School district officials said they will talk with tutors to “see what happened.”

“Middle school students tend to want to rush through their work and this is adaptive, so if they don’t really try, the validity of where the program says they’re at isn’t as accurate,” Torbert said. “We have to remember that a lot of these students came into the program very low. We have middle school students participating that are only scoring on a third- or fourth-grade level on their initial tests.”

Every grade level saw improvement in math, the biggest of which was among second-graders. Coming into Promise Time, fewer than 15 percent of students were performing at grade level in math, but as of Tuesday nearly 27 percent were on grade level. Among seventh and eighth grade students, fewer than 5 percent are considered on grade level in math, though all made gains.

Attendance has been strong because of the free child care services offered through the program. Next year, the school district and the JWB, which provide about $650,000 to the program, hope to expand to all 42 Title 1 schools, Torbert said.

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

Twitter: @adawsonTBO

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