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Park City School District is Taking a Big Gamble with Removing Reading Aides

This morning, on KPCW, Leslie Thatcher interviewed school board member Tania Knauer. Ms. Thatcher asked Ms. Knauer about removing reading aides from our elementary school classrooms. The exchange was as follows:

Leslie Thatcher: There is a petition moving through, lots of churn on social media with regard to reading aides and the fear from parents that the district is taking away reading aides. Is that the case?

Tania Knauer: Yes. But we are also basically looking at reallocating resources because our scores show that our current reading program is ineffective. We have 7.4% of our 11th graders reading at proficiency and these are kids that have been with us up to 10 years. We are missing something somewhere. So, all educational program need to evolve and especially when they are not showing progress. So we actually have 22 people as reading aides which comes out to 12.8 FTE and something we’ve heard from our classified people is that they really want full time jobs and benefits. So basically we are turning those into 14 full time job, 32 hours a week which is 11.2 FTE and we are giving them all benefits. We are having higher quality classified jobs. Those 14 aides will then be in our Full time Kindergarten classrooms. We’ll have a full time gifted person, an intervention specialist, as well as an instructional coach… and these will all be licensed educators that will be providing the support that teachers need.

I probably need to clarify the lead statement by Ms. Knauer. I don’t believe only 7.4% of our 11th graders are reading at a proficient level. If so, Park City School District should be worrying less about being the best school district in the country. Yet, I’m not sure which group she was referring to. Here are this year’s sage results for 11th graders in Park City:


Let’s say Ms. Knauer was referring to groups classified as Hispanic or Economically Disadvantaged, which both are at the 20%-30% proficiency level. While not 7%, those levels are still not acceptable. Given that, I have three questions:

  • Will shifting reading resources to kindergarten improve lower performing groups proficiency throughout elementary school and ultimately in ten years (once they hit 11th grade… which seems to be the school district’s measure)?
  • What is the impact to other populations from losing these aides in elementary classrooms? Will our reading proficiency (for the majority of students) stay at the level it is now (or improve)?
  • What’s the impact on elementary teachers and their ability to teach (all subjects) without reading aides?

I think the school district is taking a big gamble with this. In order to call this change a success, they’ll not only have to show that lower performing groups reading skills are improving but that the majority of students weren’t hindered by this move.

What they risk is that many of these high-performing reading aides will find satisfaction elsewhere. If we find that our gamble didn’t pay off, there may be no way to get them back.

I don’t begrudge the district for making changes. It is much easier to do nothing than to stick one’s neck out. Yet, I wonder if they are putting too many of their eggs in one basket. That one basket seems to be that all day kindergarten, with enough resources, will solve our biggest problems. I’m not sure the research actually bears that out.

It will take a while, but we’ll eventually see whether the gamble paid off. I suppose that is at least one benefit of standardized tests. By 2020 we should know whether decisions made by our school district and school board were wise. If so, we should heap praise on those who stuck their neck out. If not, we’ll need to remind those people who made these decisions, and are still in our community, what damage was done.

And this is a big enough decision that there should be no excuses.

I have kids starting in kindergarten in the next few years, so I hope the district is successful (whether they plow forward or decide to take a step back). If they move forward with assigning resources to all day kindergarten, I just hope their gamble pays off and they have chosen wisely. If not, the line of people waiting to say “I told you so” may be very long.




I *think* maybe there’s just a “not” missing from the transcript? 7.4% *not* at proficiency? Maybe?

Yeah, that quote makes no sense.

Assuming it’s 7.4% not proficient… that seems pretty good, actually. I’m not sure by what metric you’d call that a failed system, unless the disadvantaged (which around here basically means Latino) kids are really struggling. If that’s the case, it’s absolutely time to try something else.


You may be right Walt, but I think Ms Knauer was referring to the Hispanic population. I remember reading about this a year or two ago and I thought at the time (2014) it was something like only 9% of 11th grade Park City Hispanic students were proficient in Language Arts. In 2015, according to SAGE test data that increased to between 20%-30% being proficient. High school wide in Park City, it is still under 70% of all kids being proficient in language arts.

I’m sure many of us would question what exactly “proficient” according to a SAGE really means… but I think that’s the metric being used.

Here’s a link to the SAGE results for Park City in 2015.


On the English Language Arts Criterion-Referenced Test (CRT) students were tested in phonetical knowledge, vocabulary, reading comprehension, analysis, evaluation, revision and editing processes, and the writing process. This was required for the Utah State Common Core standards. If you look at the Utah Criterion-Referenced Test results, 2010 – 2013 (, you can see that in English Language Arts:

Scores for 3rd graders at JRES rose from 88% (2010) to 91% (2013)
Scores for 4th graders at JRES rose from 87% (2010) to 92% (2013)
5th graders remained steady at 92%

Scores for 3rd graders at McPolin scored from 81% (2010) with a dip, then back to 81% (2013)
Scores for 4th graders at McPolin dropped from 94% (2010) to 75% (2013)
Scores for 5th graders at McPolin dropped from 94% (2010) to 66% (2013)

Scores for 3rd graders at Parleys scored from 88% (2010) with a dip, then back to 88% (2013)
Scores for 4th graders at Parleys dropped from 87% (2010) to 79% (2013)
Scores for 5th graders at Parleys dropped from 92% (2010) to 87% (2013)

Scores for 3rd graders at Trailside dropped from 95% (2010) to 88% (2013)
Scores for 4th graders at Trailside rose from 87% (2010) to 92% (2013)
Scores for 5th graders at Trailside dropped from 91% (2010) to 88% (2013)

Scores for 8th graders at Treasure Mtn remained steady at 96%
Scores for 9th graders at Treasure Mtn rose from 92% (2010) to 95% (2013)

Scores for 10th graders at PCHS remained steady at 96%
Scores for 11th graders at PCHS rose from 93% (2010) to 96% (2013)
Scores for 10th graders at PC Learning Center dropped from 81% (2010) to 80% (2012)
Scores for 11th graders at PC Learning Center rose from 65% (2010) to 82% (2012)

It might be a good idea to determine weak points in ELA curricula throughout the district and add experienced, educated resource staff to those areas. This shows a mixed bag of drops and increases in scoring, but not a complete bust by any means.


YIkes, if only (at best) 30% of the Latino students are at grade level/competence/whatever, either the system is failing them or something else is failing. Probably worth trying some new approaches if that’s the case, because honestly the rich kids (like mine, yours, everyone who reads this site) are basically going to be fine.

It would be really nice if we could get some coherent information from the district on all of this but it seems like that’s not in the cards, at least so far. Maybe the new PR person can sort it out. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on from the PCSD official sources, so we’re left with social media and gossip. Terrible.


The new Interventionist Specialist position at each elementary school has been posted on the District website ( Luckily for current reading staff who have been eliminated, these positions will be filled in-house. Somewhat of a musical chairs in rehiring fewer positions than are currently held.

While it was my understanding throughout the course of communication regarding the new reading program that the Intervention Specialist would provide reading learning assistance to all students/teachers from grades 1-5, the posted position requires no reading certifications.

“Three (3) years elementary teaching experience; ESL Endorsement; Master’s Degree in Education.” “Supporting teachers in providing instruction to English Learners in the areas of speaking, listening, reading and writing. Assists in identifying the English Language WIDA Levels of identified students and helps classroom teachers develop literacy plans that incorporate appropriate ESL, materials with an emphasis in speaking, reading, writing and listening.”

WIDA,, is a loose acronym now, but ‘WIDA advances academic language development and academic achievement for linguistically diverse students through high quality standards, assessments, research, and professional development for educators.’

The description does include helping all teachers, with focus on our non-Engilsh speaking population. This is great! And how will this person’s time be spent on the ground? What will his/her day look like? Will he/she truly be available to help on demand or through a dedicated schedule of some sort? How will English-speaking students who struggle also be raised to expected levels in reading scores?

Our teachers will gain reading endorsements, so students will surely continue to learn. I’m left to wonder why we needed to eliminate all reading and ESL staff at all. Why not simply add the Intervention Specialists for ESL students to each school to close cultural gaps in learning?

Only slightly off topic, our Kindergarten students have been scoring much higher in reading than our 1st- and 2nd-graders. This could be a result of very good preschool programs in and out of district schools, as well as our Kindergarten program. Yet, most reading resources will be placed in Kindergarten classrooms and not the lower scoring classrooms. This is an observation.

As Mike Myers would say, “Discuss.”


Correction: Teachers in grades 1 – 5 are not getting reading certifications, but are getting in-house training in the administration of new reading components.


This is what you get when you spend about half the national average (and the least of any state per pupil) on primary education.

If the at-risk population is struggling, I support moving resources/staff to try to help, or at least trying something different, because what’s going on now isn’t working. Would I prefer to keep the existing aides AND hire more for kindergarden? Of course. But we have no money.


Walt, it sounds like you are giving up on all the kids and parents and teachers who use Reading Aides every day. Why does Park City School District have money for computers, but not for teachers?


Not at all. State funding can only be used for certain things. The PCEF and PTOs of various schools do a ton of outside fundraising to buy all sorts of technology – but they aren’t allowed to pay the teachers. It is quite literally a case of prioritizing, because the funding does not exist to do everything that everyone wants to do. We get ~$6k/year/student. Period.

I suggest you join your local PTO or at least attend some meetings. A ton of effort goes into finding ways to externally (legally) fund things so that the district doesn’t have to, so that they can spend the money on teachers.

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