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Bush pushes measures to boost reading skills

By Associated Press
Published January 13, 2004

ORLANDO - Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday proposed legislation that would require every sixth-grader who scores poorly on the reading FCAT to get a personalized plan to improve reading skills.

The governor also said he will ask the Legislature during its spring session to spend an additional $21.4-million on his Just Read Florida!, boosting funding for the reading program to $46.4-million. Part of the extra funding would let reading coaches be placed in 240 of the lowest-performing middle schools in the state, which is about half of all middle schools in Florida, Bush said. The coaches train teachers in teaching reading. There are about 450 reading coaches in Florida's elementary schools.

"Reading has got to be the highest priority in our state," Bush said at Carver Middle School in Orlando.

Another part of the Middle Grades Reform Act backed by Bush would require the state Board of Education study how to improve reading for middle school students. The legislation will be introduced by state Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, and state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

It also would require that by next year, middle schools develop a rigorous reading requirement as part of their school-improvement plan when fewer than three-fourths of the students are reading at grade level.

"This will bring focus and rigor to academics," Bush said.

The personalized plan for sixth-graders who score below level 3 on the reading section of the FCAT would be developed with input from the students, parents and teachers and outline specific steps for improvement tailored to the student.

Such a plan has helped eighth-grader Jeremy Dozier, 13, improve his reading skills, Bush said. Jeremy, a student at Carver Middle School, was struggling in reading as a sixth-grader, but he has improved that skill through the Just Read Florida! program and by coming to school on Saturdays for extra lessons.

Ruth Melton, director of legislative relations for the Florida School Boards Association in Tallahassee, applauded the proposal, but she worried about piling more paperwork on teachers who already track students individually for two other programs.

"It seems that there must be a reasonable way to incorporate the paperwork and ease that burden on our teachers," Melton said. Melton also warned that data on individual students should be "used appropriately and not used for other purposes."

[Last modified January 13, 2004, 01:33:02]

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