Gov. Dannel P. Malloy came to Ansonia Wednesday to check in on a new software program the state is trying out to help teachers test kids’ reading skills.
The program, in its first year at Ansonia’s John G. Prendergast School, has been working well, school officials told Malloy.
Their only gripe? It should be widened to more schools.
Malloy came to Prendergast Wednesday for a “roundtable” discussion (the table was decidedly rectangular) on education reforms with a handful of Ansonia teachers and school administrators.
Also on hand were Mayor James Della Volpe, state Sen. Joe Crisco, state Rep. Linda Gentile, and Stefan Pryor, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Education.
Wednesday’s conversation focused on new software Prendergast obtained through a pilot program this school year for children in kindergarten to third grade.
The school applies the same standards of reading comprehension as others, but the software makes it easier for teachers to diagnose specific problems children have over time.
Kids read a test book aloud as a teacher monitors them and notes any problem areas. The teacher then puts that data into the software, which helps them to analyze the student’s strengths and weaknesses.
School officials gave Malloy samples of reports that showed how different students’ reading skills have improved demonstrably over the course of the school year.
Teachers use the program to diagnose students at the beginning, middle, and end of the year, Prendergast Principal Joe Apicella said, adding that the new software gives educators more instantaneous results.
“We’ve kind of always had this before, but it was located in a manila folder on a piece of paper,” Apicella said. “I can run these reports within a day of the assessments being completed.”
From there, administrators and teachers can develop plans specific for each child to improve their reading skills.
First-grade teacher Jennifer Kish demonstrated on her iPad how she is able to use the software to show parents where their children need specific help in reading skills, and where they don’t.
“They were really able to see everything I saw with the child,” Kish said.
Apicella said parents appreciate the additional information.
“Now we’re getting a lot of support from our parents because they understand what they need to do at home,” he said.
That support has emerged in tangible ways.
For instance, parent participation in “Ansonia READS,” a new program to educate parents on how to help their children with literacy skills, has far outpaced expectations.
“READS” is an acronym for Reading Engages Ansonia’s Dynamic Students.
Officials figured about 80 people would attend the program’s first event in January at the Boys & Girls Club.
When the day came, about 400 showed up. On a snow day.
Lines went out the door, Jessica Koziel, the program’s coordinator, told Malloy.
At the events, Koziel said several “stations” are set up, each focusing on a specific reading skill with which parents can help their children.
In addition, staff members are on hand to talk to parents and answer questions.
Toward the end of the discussion, Malloy asked for a summing-up.
“This is the first year for this?” he asked.
Yes, teachers responded.
“Do you like it?” the governor asked.
Again, teachers said yes — and Superintendent Carol Merlone interjected to note that the program was in place only at Prendergast, and not at the district’s other elementary school, John C. Mead School.
“This is at one, and we would LOVE to expand it to the other building,” she said — following through by taking Pryor aside after the end of the meeting to lobby him personally.
“Oh well go ahead then,” Malloy joked.
In reality, whether the pilot program will be expanded to other schools will likely depend on funding.
Bridget Calabrese, the school district’s language arts coordinator, said that in the program’s first year, a private grant administered by the state funded the project at 10 schools throughout Connecticut.
The state took over funding the project for those 10 schools for this school year, and the private grant was used to provide money to five new schools for 2012-13.
Calabrese said she hopes the pilot program can be extended to Mead next year, but the matter is “still up for discussion” with state officials.
“My hope is that they see the value in this program and the ease of its use for students, parents, teachers and administrators,” Calabrese said.
The governor said during the meeting that he recognized the importance of the program and that he’d do what he can to help, but was noncommittal about specifics.
“We’re trying,” he said.