In 2012, Florida required its 100 lowest-performing elementary schools to add an extra hour to their school day and to spend that hour on reading instruction led by teachers who are highly effective in teaching reading. As Education Week's Catherine Gewertz reported in a recent article, Florida is the only state to mandate a longer day that's focused on reading.
The results have been generally positive: Reading scores on the state's standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) improved at 73 of the schools after just one year with the extra reading hour. At 17 schools, scores jumped 10 percent or more.
This week, two Florida educators shared their experiences with the program rollout in an Education Week webinar, "More Time for Reading: How Florida Schools Are Using a Longer Day to Bolster Literacy Instruction." (An archived version of the webinar is available here.)
Sixteen schools in the Palm Beach County school district were required to add an extra hour for reading in 2012-13; 15 of them improved reading scores enough to move off the lowest-performing list. Debbie Battles, elementary curriculum director for the district, told webinar listeners that the success of the extra hour in Palm Beach County was due to the positive spin principals put on the requirement.
"Being identified as a Low 100that is not a designation that any school principal wants," Battles said. Yet, she noted, principals "shared with their faculties and communities that the extra hour shouldn't be viewed as a punishment, (but) rather an opportunity that would really benefit every student as well as the teachers," who all received additional training in teaching reading.
Harriet Taylor, principal of Springfield Elementary School in Panama City, part of Florida's Bay County school district, said scheduling the extra hour of reading instruction in the morning seemed to make a difference. Springfield Elementary had provided reading tutoring after school for years, she observed, but had not seen major gains in performance.
"After lunch, many of our students begin to shut down, they're tired," she said. With additional instruction in prime time, the school improved scores enough in one year to move off the lowest-performing list.
Interestingly, although Springfield Elementary and most of the low-performing schools in Palm Beach County were not required to schedule an extra hour of reading in the 2013-14 school year, their districts have continued to fund the extended day this year.
"We knew we needed to keep this momentum going and that one year wasn't long enough for sustainable results," Battles said.
Besides reading gains, Battles and Taylor said, their schools have seen discipline problems decrease as student frustration with reading has diminished. And library use is up. Students used to check out 1,200 books a year at Springfield Elementary, Taylor said, but that's increased to more than 4,000 books a year.
"The children are gaining confidence in themselves, and it's so encouraging to see them walking down the sidewalk and telling me about their book," she said.