Originally created 01/16/97

School set to try new methods



JOHNSTON, S.C. - Some pupils at Douglas Elementary School next year will be the guinea pigs for research into a teaching method backers hope will become a statewide model.

One class in each grade at the school will be taught using regular children's books and real-world writing exercises rather than just textbooks and workbooks.

The Edgefield County School Board gave a green light Tuesday to the research project headed by University of South Carolina-Aiken education Professor Laura Saunders.

Dr. Saunders first came to Douglas as a consultant in January 1996 after the school was named one of 200 in the state with the worst language test scores.

Her work - getting teachers to read to children from regular books rather than texts and having pupils write letters, journals, poems and stories - helped the school increase its language scores from 1995 to 1996 on the Metropolitan Achievement Test-7.

The MAT-7 is a standardized test administered nationwide each year to measure reading, writing and math skills in fourth-, fifth-, seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders.

The percentage of Douglas fourth-graders who scored above the 50th percentile on the language section of the test rose from 24 percent in 1995 to 31 percent in 1996. The increase among fifth-graders was from 9 percent in 1995 to 26 percent in 1996.

The challenge at Douglas and other schools like it, Dr. Saunders said, is that most of the pupils come from rural areas and are statistically likely to come from a family below the poverty level, with a single parent who didn't complete high school.

Besides using intensive reading in schools, Dr. Saunders' method also sends pupils home with books their parents must read to them.

"We want reading to get into these kids' homes as well," she said.

Dr. Saunders received a $9,000 grant from the Self Foundation of Greenwood to use the method intensively in five classes at the school in the 1997-98 school year. She hired a professional fund-raiser to raise the other $18,000 needed to implement the program.

The pupils' progress will be closely monitored in order to try to prove the method is successful. If so, Dr. Saunders will teach it to her students at USC-Aiken and advocate its use in other rural schools.

The Douglas teachers who must utilize the method and be evaluated on it will receive graduate school credit for their work.