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Schools get aid to boost literacy
Board doles out $150,000 for Provo students

PROVO -- Cynthia Van Buren notes with keen interest the strong reading skills of the kindergarten students she tutors as a volunteer at a Provo elementary school.

"I've been pleased with what I've seen," said Van Buren, giving kudos to an enhanced literacy effort in the Provo City School District that focuses on bolstering the reading skills of beginning students.To help literacy courses in elementary schools, the five-member education board Tuesday doled out $150,000 that was dedicated by the Legislature to boosting reading scores by the third grade.

Money from HB312, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Alexander, R-Provo, is available July 1.

Spurred by low test scores and estimates that about one-third of Utah students in the early grades read below grade level, lawmakers approved the bill, which provided $5 million to be distributed among the state's 40 district to develop literacy programs.

This year, nine of Provo's 13 elementary schools will receive $5,000 for reading projects. Each school will also receive an allocation -- ranging from some $25,000 at Grandview to $7,000 at Canyon Crest -- based on the number of first-, second- and third-grade students who scored below grade levels last year on the Reading Core Test, a statewide criterion-referenced exam.

Principals from urban schools Franklin, Joaquin, Maeser and Timpanogos, which have fared poorly on SAT and year-end exams in the past, decided to forgo asking for the state literacy money. Instead, the schools will start similar educational programs with money from a $1.7 million federal grant.

"We have a small amount of money and a need at each school," said Scott Cameron, a member of the education board. "There just isn't enough to meet the needs of all the students."

Provo welcomes the help to start reading programs. Nearly 40 percent of students at Timpanogos, Grandview, Maeser and Joaquin cannot read at grade level, according to last year's reading test scores.

Twenty-five percent of students at Sunset View, Franklin and Provost did not meet basic skill levels. Canyon Crest registered the best score, with only 6 percent reading below grade norms.

However the money is distributed, said Assistant Superintendent Patti Harrington, each school will be held accountable for its literacy plan.

"Our schools ought to be held accountable for the use of these monies in ways which directly and positively influence student achievement and which show a relentless and laserlike focus on reading abilities for all students," Harrington said.

Board members are still reeling from the crushing defeat last month of a proposed $2.2 million leeway that would have paid for an academic-standards program focusing on reading and mathematics.

The levy would have been dedicated toward additional tutoring, summer courses and one-on-one instruction to prepare students for exams that would determine if they would be passed along to higher grade levels. Without the levy, the district is having a hard time finding money to support extra programs.

District officials are still undecided about starting the standards plan this fall.

"I'm torn on this because it is really not enough (money) to do anything," said Mossi White, board president about the state money for reading programs. "It's very difficult. We wish we weren't in this situation. We'd like to give help to all children who need it."