North Summit Elementary students recognized as the best readers in the state |

North Summit Elementary students recognized as the best readers in the state

Carrie Ovard teaches North Summit Elementary students reading skills. The school recently achieved the highest reading marks in the state of any public school.
Courtesy of the North Summit School District

Students at North Summit Elementary School were recently recognized as being the best in the state at advancing their reading skills.

According to a statewide assessment given to all Utah schoolchildren from kindergarten to third grade, North Summit students hit their reading benchmarks at an 87% clip — the highest for any public school and the third-highest overall.

That’s up from 62% the year before, a jump of 25 percentage points when a move of even 3% is hard to achieve, said Julie Marsh, the district’s assessment director and instructional coach.

“At first, when the data started coming in at the end of the year, I couldn’t believe where it was,” Marsh said. “Adrenaline shoots through your body. Everybody was just — just the feelings that went through (us.) They were excited.”

The metric measures how well students achieve the goals that are established for their reading progress after being tested at the beginning of the year. The goals are based on national averages, and the tests themselves are specialized enough to point out specific areas where kids need help.

At North Summit, students are divided up into smaller groups to work on the skills they need to learn for an hour a day, four days a week. The sessions are split into two half-hour chunks, with the first half dedicated to phonics and the second to reading comprehension. They’re led by teachers and paraprofessionals.

Marsh said the district uses a program called Really Great Reading to hone in on the specific areas each child needs to approve and the small groups are dedicated to those specific skills. She attributes the program’s success to buy-in from teachers and staff, and especially to the work put in by the paraprofessionals who help lead some of the smaller groups.

Marsh described rigorous training sessions that teach paraprofessionals how to administer a test and how to score it, with feedback coming if scoring differentiates from the correct answers.

“Teachers and administrators know the hard work that the paraprofessionals provide and make sure regular training is provided to help them understand exactly how and what needs to be taught,” Marsh said.

Kids are tested three times a year and the small groups are changed based on their progress. The tests last one or two minutes and are taken on an iPad.

Marsh has been the full-time instructional coach and assessment director for two years now, and she said the district’s hiring of the position shows the importance it puts on improving reading scores. She said that focus was evident in the recent results.

“We’re actually closing our gaps so kids can read and phonetically understand, which in turn changes their life,” Marsh said. “Maybe a kid who can barely get through high school, who works on these skills … a kid now might have another choice in life.”

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