DALLAS -- LaCreole Middle School students continue to fall below the state average in reading and writing, so the school is dropping drama to create a new class to target struggling students.
"We have never been above the state average (in writing)," Principal Steve Spencer said. "That alone has piqued my interest (in making changes)."
In 2008, LaCreole's seventh-graders received a 44-percent score on the state's annual Oregon State Assessment Test for writing, while the state average for that grade was 49 percent. Teachers and administrators decided their modified language arts classes are not enough to help students improve literacy.
"If they can't read at a ninth-grade level when they get to high school, they will more likely drop out," JuliAnn Lindemann, a LaCreole eighth-grade language arts and drama teacher, said.
Spencer is aiming for 100 percent of his students to pass all of the state's tests. To do so, he is using the school's limited resources in creative ways to help them.
Using the existing Professional Learning Communities curriculum, the school is collecting its own data to find out how much students are learning. That data will mold how class units will be taught, he said. But improving literacy will not just be a one-subject target.
"The focus is not just for language arts teachers, but a building-wide focus," Spencer said.
Class units will run two weeks long, giving all teachers more time to assess students and make changes. A literacy coach may be hired with federal money to improve teaching methods.
The biggest difference will be through intervention. A new literacy enrichment elective will take the place of drama next fall.
Students in grades 6-8 will be placed in the class based on common assessment, state scores and teacher recommendations. The students will stay in the course for extra reading help until their reading level improves.
Anna Gamble teaches the modified language arts class for eighth grade and sees her students struggle on a daily basis. Even though her class is slower paced, she said there is certainly a need for a literacy class that teaches reading in a fun way and boosts student confidence.
"I have a lot of the lower (level) kids and they get beaten down sometimes in their struggles," Gamble said.
Lindemann will replace her three sections of drama with the new course that she said is similar to reader's theater. Students will be able to perform readings from more popular fiction and other classes and make movies, plays or a newspaper. She is still early in the planning process.
As for her drama program, Lindemann said the only students who are very disappointed are sixth-graders whose schedules do not allow them to take part in drama club. But her club will remain active, she said.
"Those kids can see how drama can still be a part of their life, just not regular class," Lindemann said.
She said the decision was made in the best interest of the students.
"If kids can't read, then they don't have a future," Lindemann said.