UPDATE: In November 2020, Perryville Elementary was one of 28 elementary schools across Kentucky identified through research by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky. The analysis, sponsored by the Prichard Committee, was created to spotlight schools that significantly exceeded expectations based on demographic factors between 2012 and 2019. This profile of the school was published prior to the research project.



For groups of fifth graders arriving for a reading lesson with teacher Nikki Adams, the morning’s challenge is spotting examples of how an author shows cause and effect or uses comparisons and contrasts to inform readers.

In an article titled “Why are the Oceans Salty?,” they spot phrases like “As a result…” and “To explain…” to understand the text structures and strengthen their skills as readers.

They also have to tap other skills, like making sense of an unfamiliar word.

“What do we do when we get a word like that?” the teacher asked when a student reached “magnification.” They discuss root words, discuss whether magnification is connected to “magnet” or “magnify,” and quickly agree that magnification is about the amount that something is enlarged.

In these small groups, the teacher guides students through new learning targets and practices new techniques. While a group of students gathers for the teacher-led lesson, others cycle through chances to read with partners, complete lessons on laptop computers and worksheets, or read independently.

“I’ve gotten better,” said fifth grader Tylana Clark, 11, of the ups and downs of becoming a stronger reader. “Finding supporting details and the main idea was kind of hard, but they do it in different ways to help you.” Tylana is eager to share books she likes — strongly recommending the Dork Diaries series and endorsing author and illustrator Raina Telgemeier and her young-adult graphic novels “Sisters” and “Smile.”

In fourth grade, Tylana recalled, learning to summarize was a big help. This year, she is interested in new text structures like the day’s compare-and-contrast. “I think it’s easy to find differences and similarities,” she added.

SECOND GRADE STUDENTS discuss books in pairs during a reading block at Perryville Elementary in Boyle County.

At Perryville Elementary in central Kentucky, the strategy for preparing young readers has yielded strong results. Perryville ranked among the top 10 elementary schools on 2018 state reading tests, with 85 percent of its students scoring proficient or above, up from 75 percent in 2017. The Kentucky average was about 55 percent, a result that has barely changed over the past five years.

Each classroom teacher devotes 90 minutes to reading, with the time scheduled in the first two hours of each day. Principal Christopher Slone said that the school makes it widely known that mornings are about reading.

“It’s a building-level commitment,” Slone said. “We schedule assemblies, drills, birthday parties, everything to protect that time. That includes parent and community buy-in — we emphasize the importance of minimal student checkouts during that time, and people commit to that. This is a community that wants our school to do well and supports that.”

During reading time, adults throughout the building are assigned to help in classrooms. In addition, the school’s staffing allots a teacher and full-time assistant in each kindergarten and first-grade class to maximize student access to adult help.

‘I know where my kids are at the end of every lesson, and intervention time is built in,’ said fifth-grade teacher Nikki Adams.

Reading is also a district priority. In 2015, the district leadership team examined reading results to find common practices in its high-performing classrooms. The process led to a set of strategies and practices the district has since promoted through training and ongoing collaboration for teachers and administrators.

Known in Boyle County as Systematic Literacy Instruction, the approach provides guidance for structuring classroom delivery, gathering performance data and individualizing learning, according to the district materials.

The strategy draws from two existing models: Daily Five is a mix of reading to oneself, reading with a partner, writing, word work and listening to reading that occurs as the teacher confers with individual students or small groups. Reader’s Workshop is a block of time for reading, discussing and writing about reading built around individual strengths and needs.

While the process gives students various ways to experience and practice literacy, built-in assessments yield information about how well students are understanding new material or remembering topics or skills already covered.

Teachers use that performance data to review material — often in same-day intervention time where the teacher and student might review concepts the student missed in a review quiz at 10 a.m. Teachers also use the assessment feedback to tailor their Review Friday lessons built around student needs.

Adams, in her fourth year as a teacher, said the school’s approach and routines give her a constant handle on how well her students are meeting standards. “We are good here about recognizing gaps — knowing when and why a kid didn’t get it,” Adams said. “I know where my kids are at the end of every lesson, and intervention time is built in.”

Principal Slone said that the daily chance for conferencing with students is a powerful part of school’s approach. “We see students growing through the one-on-one contact,” he said.

On 2018 state reading tests, 85 percent of Perryville students scored proficient or above, up from 75 percent the previous year. The state average of 55 percent has barely changed in recent years.

“The biggest thing is knowing what’s expected — for the kids and me,” added second-year teacher Katrina Glass, who teaches second grade. The school’s unified focus encourages collegial work and provides support for challenges. “Knowing the expectations makes being a new teacher seem not so overwhelming,” Glass said.

In her classroom — not long before she gathers all the second graders to sit on the carpet to read about seahorses then page through an oversized book about the sights along Route 66 — Glass goes over a story with a small group of six. She hides the words in a story and asks students to describe what might be happening by only looking at pictures, practicing ways that readers gather information that helps them understand the text.

Halfway across the room, Drew Coulter, 8, is sitting next to a friend, each with a book in hand. They alternate between reading and chatting.

Drew is proud of his progress as a reader since he started school. “In kindergarten and first grade, we did sight words and moved to harder sight words. Last year, I read easier chapter books,” he said. “I’m reading better than ever in second grade. I read fluently — not having that much trouble with words. Last year, I had trouble with some of the books because they were pretty hard. They had words like ‘distinguished’.”

Drew is also deeply interested in what he can learn from reading — information about football players or the tools and tactics knights used for battle. He enjoys the puzzle presented by unusual words. He marvels over how the word “chemistry” is spelled.

In Glass’s room, as the class practices spelling words that include the letters “-ar,” Drew raises his hand when the teacher asks for examples. He volunteers “Arkansas.” Glass begins a class attempt to spell it. As the last letter is added, several students express disbelief.

Drew smiles. “I remembered that I’d seen it in book and thought, ‘What’s this?’ ” he explained later. “It’s one of those that doesn’t follow the spelling pattern.”

He looks forward to amazing things that might be shared or learned in reading class. “At this school, they’ll teach you all the words you need to know,” he said.

SECOND GRADE TEACHER Katrina Glass leads students though a short group book discussion.

TOP PHOTO: FIFTH GRADE TEACHER Nikki Adams works in a small group reading lesson at Perryville Elementary.



Schools’ planning and attention to strong reading programs is a key element of academic achievement, student growth, and reducing learning gaps. Understanding the elements of a local reading program is fundamental for supporting school and student success. Some questions that might spark a local conversation:

\\ How does your school or district measure student reading skills or levels? Schools usually identify a student’s individual reading level, which may be expressed as a “Lexile” level or a DIBELS score or some other assessment used to match students with appropriate reading material. Such scores can provide information about where students’ stand and how they are progressing.

\\ How does your school or district monitor student progress and group performance? Many schools give their own standardized exams that include a reading test, which can indicate reading proficiency or student skill levels. Parents and community members should understand how schools track and respond to reading data.

\\ What is your school’s or district’s plan for improving reading proficiency and addressing achievement gaps? Also, how are reading knowledge and skills practiced across subjects, since understanding concepts and vocabulary in all subjects relies on strong reading skills?

At Perryville Elementary, students answer short formative assessments each day electronically, allowing teachers to see whether students are demonstrating understanding of learning targets they have covered recently. Teachers uses those results to re-teach skills to students or move some students further along, depending on individual results.

\\ Kentucky Academic Standardsprovide grade-by-grade examples of minimum skills all students should possess in foundational reading skills as well as abilities for understanding informational texts and literature. Beginning in second grade, the standards include text complexity expectations that increase with time.

On the state’s K-PREP exams, reading passages and questions are equally divided between literary and informative material. Questions also cover key ideas, craft and structure, integration of ideas, and vocabulary and acquisition. The test for third graders has a slight emphasis on key idea questions. For fourth- and fifth-graders, integration of ideas questions get emphasis, a trend that continues on the middle school exam.

\\ For students in primary grades — up until third grade — literacy teaching is likely to stress familiarity with sounds in language, known as “phonological awareness,” work with different sounds in words, known as “phonemic awareness,” and how letters associate with sounds, known as “phonics.” In addition, young students begin to learn basic “sight words,” common words that they can recognize from memory, and then building fluency and comprehension plus writing, listening, and spoken language skills. In intermediate grades, students build their ability to apply phonics, build fluency and comprehension with more challenging materials, work on word knowledge and vocabulary, while also adding speaking, writing and listening skills. The Kentucky Literacy Plan, published in 2018, outlines recommended components of school literacy programs.

Each month, the BRIGHT SPOTS blog showcases impressive learning in Kentucky schools.



ENROLLMENT: 250 in P-5
RACE: 8.7% minority
INCOME: 60% eligible for free/reduced price meals

\\ Perryville Elementary was one of two Kentucky elementary school recognized by the state education department as a National ESEA Distinguished School for 2018. It was presented by the national association of state directors for the main federal aid program supporting elementary and secondary schools.

\\ Among students tested in grades 3-5 in 2018, about 79 percent of the 70 students whose families qualified for free- or reduced-price meals scored proficient or better in reading. That compared to 93 percent of the 54 students whose family incomes were too high to qualify for discounted meals.

\\ All three elementary schools in Boyle County produced high reading scores on state exams. At Junction City Elementary, more than 79 percent of all students in grades 3-5 scored proficient or above in reading on 2018 state tests, up from about 72 percent in 2017. At Woodlawn Elementary, the district’s largest, more than 76 percent of all students in grades 3-5 scored proficient or above, about the same as the 78 percent rate in 2017.


Lonnie covered education for the Courier Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader. He worked as a reporter and editor at Education Week in Washington, D.C. He has served as a school board member and was a parent member of a school SBDM council.

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