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Eastside Elementary adds program to boost reading scores

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The principal and teachers from the Eastside Elementary School in Brooksville unveiled details about their selection of a reading program designed to increase the reading scores of some of the school’s students. Still, some members of the Hernando County School Board worried that the makers of the program were in conflict with the state’s anti-woke agenda.

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During their Jan. 10 workshop meeting, the school board heard from a panel consisting of Hernando School District Director of Research and Accountability Sonsee Sanders, Eastside Elementary Principal Mike Lastra, Eastside reading teachers and Angela Kennedy director of federal programs for the school district. The panel told members of the board that state assessment student reading performance data for Eastside revealed that for the 2022 academic year, the school received a grade of “D.”
“It is our district’s only ‘D,’” Sanders said.

In addition, 47 percent of students in the third grade ranked as a level 1, which is underperforming in foundational reading skills. Many of them were retained, Sanders said.

At the same time, federal assessment data compiled under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) showed that six of the eight subgroups assessed for proficiency, learning gains, and core subjects fell below the minimum benchmark of 41 percent during the 2022 school year.
“The two that were the most concerning were the students with disabilities at 14 percent and our African-American students at 25 percent,” Sanders said.

According to Sanders, the Florida Department of Education (DOE) requires that schools achieving a performance level of “D” must create a school improvement plan.

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To raise reading scores, the school has purchased the Magnetic Reading Program. Under the program, students’ foundational reading skills are assessed, and in addition to their regular reading curriculum, they work with teachers on skill-building through lessons and reading materials.

The program costs $26,599.82; however, according to Kennedy, the school will use a Unified School Improvement Grant (UNISIG) to pay for the program.
“UNISIG is a grant to support school improvement initiatives and is available to Title 1 schools with a grade of a D or an F,” she said. “Eastside is the only school in our district to be eligible for those UNISIG funds.”

Despite the available funding source, it was the maker of the Magnetic Reading Program that caused concern among some board members. Mark Johnson worried that the program was not inclusive enough and that its developers Curriculum Associates, were also developers of i-Ready programs sometimes named as having a so-called “woke” education agenda.

“First of all, I don’t see anything about Asian students or white students. It shouldn’t be limited to one group or to one subgroup,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the things that I don’t like about this program.”

Board member Shannon Rodriguez also rejected the program. Rodriguez said there are a lot of gaps in i-Ready. As a result, she said it’s not beneficial. Rodriguez questioned, “If we’ve used i-Ready before, why are we going to continue with the same makers and take on a (new) reading program?”

“I know our literacy rate is terrible, and we need to get that back up, but I do not support programs that have certain ideologies behind them,” she said. “The same people that created i-Ready are the same publishers of this program, and if we know that the ideology is there, I don’t think we should use it.”

Linda Prescott disagreed about the program’s publishers.
“I don’t know of any product that’s perfect,” she said.

In response, Eastside’s principal Mike Lastra said that the school intended to use the Magnetic Reading Program, not i-Ready resources.
“We’re spending our money on a supplemental reading foundational program,” he said.

The purchase was approved 3-2 during the school board meeting on Jan. 10, with board members Johnson and Rodriguez opposing the purchase.

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