Reading First grant considered

The school district will decide whether to apply for funding.
Thursday, February 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:43 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

As some states rebel against the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Columbia Public School District is looking to implement one of its central programs.

Today, the Columbia Board of Education will vote on whether the district should apply for a Missouri Reading First grant. Reading First gives money to schools and districts to use science-based reading research in instruction and assessment, according to the No Child Web site.

Reading First is part of the No Child Left Behind Act initiated by President Bush to close achievement gaps by focusing on struggling schools. Bush targeted early reading skills as a source of disparity between successful and unsuccessful students.

To counteract this gap, Reading First became an important program and source of federal funding under the act.

“It is a comprehensive reading program for students K-3 based on research that has been done,” said Delores Beck, coordinator of federal programs for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “It will provide a lot of training for teachers, and I think the kids will really benefit. Teachers will benefit as well, but the important part is the kids.”

The goal of the national program is to support states to make sure every child can read well by third grade. States go through a rigorous application process, and Missouri was accepted to the program in September. The state was given $108 million to be distributed over the next six years to implement Reading First.

Columbia was told of its eligibility to get a Reading First grant in December, when the first round of accepted schools were notified. School districts become eligible based on 30 percent of their third-graders scoring below proficient levels on the communications section of the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP, the state’s main standardized test, in combination with poverty levels or school improvement status in the district.

“The school district could have reached that criteria any time in the last three years,” said Beck. “It doesn’t mean they haven’t been improving in the last three years — we just didn’t want to deny this funding for districts even if they are already improving.”

Districts that meet the criteria will receive a minimum of $100,000 per school each year, and the grant can be renewed for three years. The Columbia Public School District is eligible to apply for a grant for as many as 15 schools, according to the board agenda.

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