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Jefferson is 'Beacon School' in reading

Jefferson Elementary School in Medford has been selected as one of three schools in the state to serve as demonstration sites of research-based practices in reading instruction.

Jefferson, Humboldt Elementary School in Portland and David Hill Elementary School in Hillsboro were selected as "Beacon Schools" by the Oregon Department of Education after it and the Oregon Reading First Center tested students to corroborate separate assessments conducted by school staff.

"We're very excited about it," said Jefferson Principal Susan Inman.

Criteria for selection included at least 75 percent of students meeting all federal requirements for making adequate yearly progress in academics and participation.

Starting next school year, administrators and staff from around the state and nation each week will visit the schools to learn about how they've implemented the federal Reading First Program.

Jefferson will receive $275,000 to $290,000 from the education department to pay for a reading coach, teacher mentor, personnel to coordinate and accommodate visits, professional development and producing informational materials.

The Reading First grant is intended to help low-income schools boost students' reading skills, which are tested under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

At Jefferson, more than 21 percent of students performed below grade level in reading when the school was awarded the grant in 2003-04. Now, 91 percent of students are at or above grade level on the third-grade state assessment. About 65 percent of the school's 550 students are economically disadvantaged.

"It's a real success story for our school," Inman said.

"There are no excuses," she said. "We make sure everybody has what they need to succeed. If it's not working, we try something else."

No Child Left Behind mandates that all students score at grade-level on state assessments in reading and math by 2014, though upcoming revisions to the act could change the deadline.

Reading First targets kindergartners through second-graders based on the belief that it's easier to master reading at the lower grades, rather than make up the deficit later.

Students are first tested in the third grade on their reading skills for the purpose of federal reporting under No Child Left Behind.

The program involves assessing students at least three times a year before the third grade on phonemic awareness, the alphabet, reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. By the end of the third grade, students are expected to read 110 words a minute.

Students who score below grade level are tested more frequently to monitor their progress.

The assessments allow teachers to closely monitor each student's progress and adapt instruction to their needs.

Students learn reading in 90-minute blocks during which students are divided into small groups according to their ability to work on tasks to enhance their skills. Those who are struggling receive double that amount of reading instruction.

Teachers received extensive training for the program, new reading curriculum and a reading coach who advises them on a regular basis.

At Jefferson, teachers on average underwent 35 hours each year of staff development for the program for five years.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.