Stamford parents with kids between kindergarten and 3rd grade, recently notified that their child will take the Developmental Reading Assessment, are taking great efforts to make sure that their kids succeed.
Long-time Stamford educator and former Hart Magnet School principal Mary Jennings is very adamant in that the DRA's do not represent a form of tracking, and instead represent a form of heterogeneous grouping, which many Stamford educators want to move towards.
"I think the DRA is a tool for teachers that they use with all children, to help determine where we should start with instruction so we're not teaching youngsters things that they don't need, and it also helps to monitor student's progress," Jennings said.
According to a DRA fact sheet, the assessment serves, among many purposes:
- Assesses the reading ability of students between K-3rd grade.
- Allows teachers to determine a child's "strengths and needs".
- Allows teachers to "tailor teaching methods" for children with reading abilities below their grade level.
Jennings was present for a recent DRA-prep meeting at the Stamford Government Center in which parents were able to raise questions on how to best prepare their kids for the assessment, which has been in Stamford for much of the time that Jennings has been an educator.
When Stamford mom Ebony Byrd was informed via mail that her son was taking the DRAs, she wasn't leaving anything to chance.
"They sent a letter saying that my son was being prepared to take a test, so I wanted more information," Byrd said. During a recent DRA-prep meeting at the , Byrd was one of over one-hundred local parents who had many questions regarding the nature of the DRA's and the situation of elementary school education in Stamford.
"My son got the paper that said his school wasn't doing good, but you do get options to switch your child's school. The letter said that there was no option to do that here because all of the schools are having the same problem," Byrd said to Jennings during the meeting.
"If there was a school that was not in need of improvement, then your child would've been able to leave his school and go to another school, but because all of our elementary schools are in need of improvement--and showing improvement, let me say that, too--is the reason that he would not be able to go to another school," Jennings replied.
Few, if any children at the meeting had taken the DRA's yet, but nearly all of the parents had begun preparing their children for it as soon as they received notification.
On top of the formal information Jennings offered, she was able to provide on-the-spot advice for DRA preparation, such as getting children into the practice of "repetitive reading": reading the same, simple books repeatedly to build vocabulary and reading retention.
Most parents, such as Byrd, expressed that they were more than satisfied with the help being provided by Stamford Public Schools. For Jennings, the DRA's potential as a tool to help teachers is still its primary benefit.
"If I'm not instructing you to improve yourself, giving you the skills that you need to move forward, then it could be detrimental, but that's not what happens in a classroom...there are ways that I, as a teacher, could help you improve your reading," Jennings said.