Reforms Improve Literacy and Academic Achievement in Northeast Ohio

Franklin Elementary School in Elyria is locally notorious for its low test scores. But beginning next fall, the school will embark on a 5-year program to enact experimental education reforms.

A grant from the locally based Stocker Foundation, Franklin plans to extend the instructional day by 45 minutes, as well as increase the use of technology, incorporate more art in the classroom, raise parental involvement and implement a preschool program.

Franklin teacher and intervention specialist Cynthia Boyd said she believes that the extra time will positively impact the students’ learning.

“I think they’re going to do a great deal of good for our kids at Franklin,” said Boyd. “Forty-five minutes is a long time to …  have extra practice in reading or math or whatever skills our students really need to work on. The forty-five minutes are going to be a lot of time to work with kids that really need the extra help to get up to grade level.”

Franklin’s faculty has also expressed strong support for the reforms, particularly the extended school day.

“One of the really neat caveats to this is that the teachers voted overwhelmingly, at 82 percent, to extend the day,” said Schloss. “We had to have a vote and they voted to extend their work day because they know it’s what’s best for kids.  The more time on task, the more time they have to work with these children, the more prepared they’re going to be.”

Oberlin City School District received a $28,668 grant from the foundation [in 2010] in order to fund literacy programs such as KinderCamp, America Reads, as well as Eastwood Elementary’s Read at Home and Book Buddies.  The grant was among twenty others totaling over $500,000 aimed at improving literacy in Northeast Ohio.

Franklin’s standardized test scores repeatedly come in below the state average. In 2013, 53 percent of third grade students were considered proficient on the math portion of the Ohio Achievement Assessments.  This marks an increase from 48 percent over 2011, but scores are still well below the 78 percent state average.

Franklin also struggled on the reading portion, with only 50 percent of students reaching proficiency in 2011 and 2012.  In 2013, this number improved to 64 percent.

Ann Schloss, the director of Academic Services at Elyria City School District, said that the various reforms applied to Franklin might also be implemented elsewhere around the district.

“Franklin is [the school] that has the highest need academically, so we thought this was the best place to start,” said Schloss. “A lot of the things that we’re going to put into place [are] in Franklin, though we will be doing bits and pieces of them all around the district. We really want to make Franklin a model school and the preschool units model preschool units.  So once we have those in place, absolutely we’re going to look at ways to spread that throughout the district.”

Ohio’s Third Grade Reading guarantee, an Ohio education reform passed in the spring of 2012, prevents students who do not score at reading proficiency level from graduating the third grade.

In order to improve scores and academic achievement, Schloss and Franklin Principal Lisa Licht, worked together to propose a set of reforms.

“Our needs … [are mainly based on] technology — incorporating it into the curriculum and getting the [students] ready for the technology that they [will] need to be prepared for later years — and better prepared students in kindergarten,” said Licht. “Also, our teachers always telling us we need more time. We put everything that we set out as a need into one grant proposal.”

The school currently runs a kindergarten skills clinic during the summer and, in an effort to expand this program and further prepare students for elementary school, the reform will add of two preschool units for four-year olds.  Boyd said she believes that the school’s twenty first century upgrades and new tech coach will take the school in a new direction.

“Technology is being more incorporated into the classroom and a lot of students that we work with don’t have an opportunity to use it outside of school. These kids will be able to learn in different ways and hopefully for the better,” said Boyd.

Franklin will implement these reforms through a grant they received from the Stocker Foundation, an organization that, according to their website, “aims to lessen the achievement-gap for under-resourced prekindergarten through third grade public school students by investing in programs that strengthen reading literacy.”

Stocker Foundation Executive Director Patricia O’Brien said that she hopes this five-year reform program at Franklin will serve as a model for future projects.

“We’ll be tracking this to see what happens over the five years and based on the results will help us to determine whether or not we will move forward in terms or replicating in Elyria or Lorain County schools or in other communities,” said O’Brien.

The Stocker Foundation is an organization that “aims to lessen the achievement-gap for under-resourced prekindergarten through third grade public school students by investing in programs that strengthen reading literacy,” according to it’s website. Based in Elyria, the program provides grants to schools in select counties across the nation including Pima County in Arizona, King County in Washington and Connecticut’s Hartford County.

The reforms require the involvement of not only school faculty, but also parents, community partners, and volunteers.

“It’s going to take the entire community to make this reform work and so we are going to be asking for a lot from our community in every aspect,” said Licht.