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SLOW DOWN ON PROGRAM, PARENTS TELL EDUCATORS

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Parents of some students involved in a five-year pilot program aimed at accelerated achievement in three elementary schools in Utah want educators to "slow down" even though it is reaping excellent academic results.

The problem, they say, is that youngsters are pushed so fast they don't have time to think and create. This was voiced by parents at the Monroe Elementary School in the Sevier District, where their youngsters are reading three times greater than normal.The program is being conducted in the Gunnison Valley Elementary in the South Sanpete School District, Valley View in the Weber District and the Monroe Elementary. It is sponsored in partnership with the Utah State Office of Education, the University of Oregon and the Utah State University.

More than a dozen parents of youngsters in the Monroe Elementary, expressed concerns about the project when they met with Tim Slocum, independent evaluator at USU, and the Sevier District Board of Education. They said the "dramatic results were achieved by pushing kids too fast and too hard."

Ironically, parents requested the program, tagged as a "direct instruction method" of teaching. It involves reading, language arts, math and spelling and was developed at the University of Oregon as an effective way to teach.

While satisfaction was voiced with the academic results, parents told board members they want the program adjusted to create time for enrichment and "breathing room." Sevier School District board member Linda Ogden concurred that a "drawback" to the direct instruction teaching method is that "it doesn't encourage students to think creatively."

Parents said they want to see changes now, voicing concerns that the students "may become bored if they are not challenged when they enter middle school." They said they fear some may even eventually drop out of school.

But changes have been promised.

"More time for creativity will be in the program this year," assured Mary Talley, a third grade teacher at Monroe elementary School who participated in a recent converence relative to the program held in Salt Lake City.

Much time was spent in training teachers last year, some of whom were designated as "peer coaches" to assist the school staff throughout the year, according to Cheryl Hostetter, project internal facilitator with the Utah State Office of Education.

Other methods of teaching were involved at another school in Sevier District so that comparisons could be made.

"The data shows that on word skills, 91 percent of Monroe kindergarten students are reading at or above grade level as compared to 67 percent at the (other) school," Slocum said. "The national average for the reading test is 50 percent."

Similar results were noted in the first grade and were very impressive," Slocum said.