March 10 — 1:54 pm, 2004

New eighth grade tutors to support math, literacy

As part of a districtwide campaign to support improved student achievement in middle grades, the School District has hired its first batch of "Transition Support Tutors" for math and for literacy. These tutors are being put to work in eighth grade classrooms at 39 middle or K-8 schools.

The 52 newly hired literacy tutors and 45 math tutors are an outgrowth of the Middle Grades Matter campaign, a recently launched partnership among the school system, the Philadelphia Education Fund and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

The campaign is built on the premise that student success in high school depends on strengthened interventions in middle grades. Students who enter ninth grade two or more years behind grade level in math and reading have only a 50/50 chance of earning on-time promotion to the tenth grade, according to research from Johns Hopkins University.

The new tutors allow for a reduction of class size during the 90-minute literacy and math blocks for eighth graders.

District CEO Paul Vallas acknowledged that middle grades teachers need additional classroom support in implementing the District’s "guided reading" program. As part of the daily literacy block, students in each classroom are grouped by reading level, and the classroom teacher provides small group instruction while making sure other groups work independently.

PEF Executive Director Nancy McGinley said the tutor program is also "a pipeline to get middle grades teachers certified."

The tutors, who are non-certified college graduates, work in schools four days a week and attend a university program to complete credits toward a Pennsylvania teaching certificate on the fifth day. Tuition will be provided by the District for up to 15 credits a year, so tutors can complete their coursework and pass state certification tests by 2006.

Tutors will partner with veteran District teachers in their assigned schools. In their first year, they will work primarily in one-on-one and small group settings to provide focused lessons. This first batch of tutors is being placed in "Corrective Action II" schools, schools that have fallen short of state standards for student achievement for five or more years and are now facing reorganization if test scores do not improve.

Other components of the Middle Grades Matter Campaign include a principals’ exchange program, a middle grades parent forum series for those raising middle grades students, and a districtwide middle grades conference held in February.

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