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EDUCATION / Reading and the classroom: Issues, people
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Phonics Program Improves Juvenile Offenders' Reading

August 13, 2000|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Juvenile offenders who received intensive phonics instruction for 11 weeks made significant gains in reading achievement, enabling the teenagers to overcome functional illiteracy, according to a new report by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Nearly 2,300 juvenile offenders in grades 7 through 12 received 100 minutes of daily reading instruction between February and June.

The wards, all of whom read at or below the fourth-grade level, were taught at juvenile halls, probation camps and various Los Angeles County educational centers. Teachers used a program called Language!, which features direct phonics lessons.

After 55 days of instruction, teachers tested 632 of the teenagers, 28% of the original group.

More than two-thirds of the students tested showed gains. The average increase was just over half a grade level--more than twice the anticipated growth. "We're excited about what we can do for these kids," said Larry Springer, director of the juvenile court and community schools division of the county education office.

"Everything we found in this report indicates that when kids come to the juvenile justice system, we can teach them how to read," Springer said. "They come in as nonreaders. They leave as independent readers."

According to the county report, every month of direct reading instruction led to 2.3 months worth of reading gains. The students were tested in vocabulary, comprehension and other skills.

The report also showed that 11th- and 12th-graders showed the greatest gains, improving by an average of eight months, or four-fifths of a grade level, after the 55 days of instruction.

County education officials estimated that students who completed a full year of the program would gain more than two grade levels. A second evaluation of the program is expected at the end of the year.

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