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February 07, 2003

Tutoring program boosts reading skills

Children in Sacramento-area schools are seeing impressive increases in their reading ability, thanks to the tutoring efforts of CSUS students.

At no cost to schools, the CSUS READERS program provides about 80 trained tutors to conduct one-on-one sessions with children having difficulties with reading. The children receive two 90-minute sessions two times a week.

Nearly every child in the program has experienced at least a half-year gain in reading level. In some cases the results are even more dramatic - one student who was not yet reading at first grade level was above third grade level after only a semester.

"The reading programs work," says teacher education professor Noreen Kellough, who runs the program with fellow professor Pamela O'Kane.

While other programs are available for a fee, the READERS program, which stands for Reaching Excellence After Developing Effective Reading Skills, is free to the schools. Three school districts - North Sacramento, Folsom-Cordova and Sacramento City - participate in the tutoring service with 15-20 tutors at each school.

The early intervention program works with first to third grade-level students. These students are at a high risk for dropping out later on, Kellough says, "We don't want to wait until fourth or fifth grade. By then, they've given up. We want them to become independent readers."

Students are pre- and post-tested in reading ability. "If they need it, they can stay on for a second semester. But we want to see progress, so they usually don't stay for more than a year," Kellough says. "We're not trying to do the job of specialists. We want to catch the ones who are falling through the cracks."

The tutoring is part of EDTE 103: Tutoring Children in Reading, a service-learning course the CSUS students take for credit. Some also receive a $1,000 education award. Tutors spend four weeks in on-campus training before going out to schools and they must pass a competency test. The tutors also attend presentations, prepare lesson plans for each tutoring session and track their students' progress. Each tutor is responsible for two children.

Most of the tutors are future teachers, but the course also attracts students from other disciplines such as criminal justice and psychology.

Kellough says the kids are thrilled to have tutors and they bond with them. The tutors are often surprised at how attached they become to the kids. Often they return for another semester.

The program has a good enough reputation that several former students currently work as paid interns in the classroom. There is also a waiting list of schools requesting tutors.

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