Plus 20: City schools target literacy

By Kayleigh Minicozzi:

After literacy rates in the Syracuse city schools fell below average for a fifth time in 2007 the district made improvements a high priority this year, hoping to increase achievement by 20 percent on this spring's assessment.

"It is really a moving target and our teachers and students are working really hard to hit it," said Ella Briand, the district's humanities field coordinator, "We really want to get that 20 percent."

The target is the English and Language Arts (ELA) exam, which is mandated by New York each year. The test is designed to measure student literacy achievement by looking at three areas: reading, writing and listening.

Designed to highlight areas where children are struggling, the test is a part of the No Child Left Behind program, which aims to increase literacy and math skills nationwide.

"It really is a snapshot in time of how a school district is doing but in our district these test really matter because of No Child Left Behind," said Kim Rohadfox-Ceasar, a member of the school board. "Overall (last year) we saw a district wide need to improve."

On average for the past five years the Syracuse City School District has failed to meet state testing standards with to many students receiving scores of one or two, which are considered failing and below average. After receiving this standing for at least three years a district is typically required to create a restructuring plan in which their curriculum is reconfigured.

"An audit was implemented at the end of last year by the state," Rohadfox-Ceasar said. "We had to look at the information they provided and find ways to improve in specific areas."

The audit and reconfiguration happened over an eight-month period and then supplied the district with areas where improvement could be made to increase student achievement. Two of the main suggestions were to provide more academic intervention services for students below grade level and to restructure the school day so that more time was allotted for literacy.

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