In third grade, Kiersten Covic’s reading score on the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) was high enough where it signaled that she would likely excel in English Language Arts the following school year.
Instead, her grade plummeted to “below satisfactory.”
It wasn’t the only thing that plunged. So did her confidence.
Fortunately, her mother, Kelly Covic, learned about the Reading Scholarship Accounts managed by Step Up For Students that could help pay for a reading program called ENCORE! Reading at Kiersten’s school, Dayspring Academy.
In 2018, Florida lawmakers created the reading scholarship to help public school students in third through fifth grade who struggle with reading. The program offers parents access to Education Savings Accounts, worth $500 each, to pay for tuition and fees for approved part-time tutoring, summer and after-school literacy programs, instructional materials and curriculum related to reading or literacy. Third through fifth grade public school students who scored a 1 or 2 on the third or fourth grade English Language Arts (ELA) section of the Florida Standards Assessments in the prior year are eligible.
With a score of 2 on the English Language Arts section of the test, Kiersten qualified. Her mother applied for the scholarship, was approved and enrolled Kiersten into the program at the A-rated public charter school in New Port Richey during the 2018-19 school year.
“When I first found out that I had to do this, I was disappointed,” said Kiersten, now a sixth grader at the school. “I thought of myself as stupid that I had to take this course.”
But soon she started reaping the benefits of the after-school reading program when her
grades had an uptick. Kiersten enjoyed the variety of methods the program used with reading assignments, writing prompts based on the books, vocabulary building activities and testing. She also found the program’s point-and-reward system motivating, using things like a prize box for students and the promise of a pizza party for good work.
Dayspring educators designed the program after the creation of the scholarship, answering the call to further help struggling readers.
“We designed the program to provide targeted instruction to small groups of learners. We saw this as an opportunity for our learners to receive additional support from their teachers,” said Wendy Finlay, Dayspring principal.
“We had six teachers teaching in our ENCORE! program to ensure that our groups would remain small and the instruction remained individualized and differentiated.”
That formula worked for Kiersten.
“I feel more confident about (reading) because we went over a lot of stuff and some of the vocabulary we went over was on the test, and I would not have known it if we didn’t,” Kiersten said.
The program was enough to boost her reading grade on the state test to a 3, a perfectly acceptable grade to put her back on track for success.
“We were really, really thrilled and relieved,”said Kelly Covic.
Kiersten was not the only one whose reading improved in the program.
“The first year of ENCORE! was a success,” Finlay said. “Our data indicates we had a 14% gain with our lowest 25% in the area of ELA. Not only did we see lowest quartile gains, we also saw an overall increase in our learning gains in ELA. Our overall achievement level in the area of ELA increased by 9%.”
Covic, who teaches music at Dayspring Academy, said she is thankful for the reading scholarship and its benefits for her daughter and other struggling young readers.
“The earlier you can intervene into your child’s reading the better because it is so vital for their success,” she said. “Reading is such a cornerstone of everything that it’s important to get this down.”
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on the redefinED blog on June 7, 2016. The blog is hosted by Step Up For Students and is an education blog dedicated to recasting the way we perceive public education.
Thank God the Miami-Dade School Board did not investigate my address.
In 2003, I went to a high school where fighting was widespread and I was lucky if I wasn’t accidentally hit when a brawl broke out in the hallway.
One day, while I was using the ladies room, another girl, who was double my size or at least it felt that way at the time, threatened to bash my head on the wall if I didn’t stop hanging out with a guy she liked. Growing up, my dad always told me, “Your face is too pretty to get into a fight.” So, I said to her: “Please don’t hit me. I’ll stay out of your way.”
She laughed. I went back to class, and tried to focus.
The next day, while walking on the hallway at the school, this same girl grabbed another student close to me. She pushed her against the wall and instigated a fight. The difference between myself and this new student: This girl fought back. The bully wasted no time. She grabbed her Snapple bottle, broke it on the wall, and used a piece of glass to slash the student’s face.
I left school early that day, and begged my mom to transfer me to a safer school. I wasn’t worried about the quality of my education. I just wanted to get away from that environment..
My mom and dad had only been in America for four years. Their financial situation was tough, and they didn’t know the system yet. But they knew I had to attend the school where I was assigned, based on where we lived.
So my parents did something thousands of other public-school parents feel forced to do, because they feel they have no other options. They lied about where we lived so I could go to a different school where I would feel safe.
Now, I’m reading in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the Broward County School Board wants to investigate parents who have used a different address to register their kids in better schools. If they’re caught lying about where they live, they may even be charged with a third-degree felony.
I understand that perjury is against the law, and that the law should be respected. But from my own experience, I know the parents who lie about their address are often the ones with limited resources, the ones who cannot afford to move to a more affluent neighborhood, the ones who can least afford to pay a fine or fight a felony charge.
I can also understand the families who have been kicked out of a school close to where they live, because the school is overcrowded with students from other neighborhoods. That, too, is unfair.
But that’s the problem. The system is unfair.
Isn’t it time for us change that system? Isn’t it time for the parents to have more control over where the kids go to school? Shouldn’t students who feel like they’re lost be able to find a place where they feel at home?
In the years since I’ve graduated, Florida has begun to offer choice that is not tied merely to where a family can afford to buy a home. The number of options available to families in the neighborhood where I grew up has increased. No district has created more magnet schools and choice programs than Miami-Dade County. It also has a growing array of charter schools. It’s home to some of the most vibrant private schools in Florida, and thanks to the growth of three scholarship programs, they are now within reach for thousands more families. In the coming years, parents will likely have even more choices in the public-school system, as open enrollment expands statewide.
No children should have to feel stuck in a school they don’t like. Parents shouldn’t have to commit a felony just to find a school where their child feels safe enough to learn.
To be sure, even with the proliferation of new choices, school districts have their hands full, trying to maintain order over assignment plans based on where students live.
But our schools should not leave desperate parents with few options other than to lie. Creating new and better options for disadvantaged families can help our public education system serve all students better.