No. 3 — Children at academic risk need individual attention from expert teachers in small settings (low student-to-teacher ratio). At each grade level, we paired literacy specialists with classroom teachers and/or ESL teachers. The teaching partners could give children up to 30 to 60 minutes per day of individualized or small group instruction and authentically evaluate their particular instructional needs.
No. 4 — Collaboration, across disciplines and across town (university-school partnership). The Bentley program brought together professionals who typically work in the isolation of a university campus or a district school, and within the world of one educational field. Last summer’s program was planned and carried out by university faculty in literacy education, science education and English language learning working together with teachers from Salem Public Schools. These partners pooled knowledge and resources in English learning, literacy development, science and art all focused on the children. The program allowed Salem State to exercise its commitment to civic engagement and to contribute responsibly and respectfully to the Salem community.
Bentley teachers used the Benchmark Assessment System to compare children’s pre- and post-program reading and writing skills. BAS asks students to read short passages, answer questions and write about what they read, and calculates that, for most grade levels, students grow an average of one reading level every three months. Students in the Bentley program far surpassed that expectation: Fifth-grader Alesar (not his real name) grew four levels or made 12 months of progress over the four-week program; he began at a late-third-grade reading level and ended at beginning-fifth-grade. Fourteen children (29 percent) who began the program reading below grade level reached or exceeded grade-level proficiency.
The children advanced in other important aspects of literacy. Thirty percent increased their level of English writing proficiency as measured by a state test for English learners. Fifty-two percent improved in their ability to express what they learned in writing exercises. Forty-five percent increased their use of the science vocabulary that was part of this project. Finally, and perhaps most important, more than 50 percent of the children reported that they liked reading more than before they began this program. That’s success!