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 Berkeley Pledge Special:

Helping Underachievers Improve Their Reading

posted June 16, 1998

A former junior high school teacher, Graduate School of Education professor Richard McCallum used what he learned in the classroom to design a reading program to improve literacy among underachieving minority students at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley.

The 30 students in the program were selected from a pool of underachievers who scored below the 39th percentile on standardized achievement tests.

“These are the kids who always sit in the back of the classroom,” says McCallum. “They are members of the classic at-risk student population.”

McCallum says the results from the first year will be available this summer. “We’re guardedly optimistic,” says McCallum. So far, two students have improved so dramatically they no longer need the twice-weekly individual tutoring sessions.

Earlier research reveals that students often show significant improvement when they receive one-on-one attention.

Students meet with their tutors – picked from Americorps and the America Reads! program – twice weekly and for individual tutoring using a custom-designed curriculum. Sessions last for 50 minutes and focus on phonology, graphics, letters and semantics.

In addition to the program’s primary goal of helping kids read better, McCallum says it gives Berkeley undergraduates a chance to work in an urban school; provides professional development for teachers; tests the effectiveness of using undergraduates as tutors; and gives graduate students a chance to help plan, implement and design a new reading program.

Effective evaluation is key to its success, says McCallum. “We are collecting tons of data – from lesson plans, interviews, surveys and observations,” he says. “We really want to see what works and what doesn’t.”

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