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January 18, 2006

Jennifer Fennell or
Cathy Schroeder
(850) 245-0413

Education Commissioner Launches Middle School Reading Initiative

ORLANDO — Commissioner John L. Winn yesterday kicked-off a yearlong middle school reading initiative at the State Board of Education meeting in Orlando. Dubbed "Shoot for the Stars: A Record-Breaking Year for Middle Schools," the initiative will consist of three major contests: Commissioner Winn's FCAT Reading Scores Challenge, Chancellor Yecke's Summer Book Reading Challenge, and the second Governor and First Lady's Reading in the Arts contest.

Reading research suggests that struggling middle school readers often have limited vocabulary and limited opportunities to develop their vocabulary, decreased motivation to read and few chances to practice their reading, especially during the summer months. This initiative is designed to spur academic achievement in middle grades by motivating students to read, building vocabulary skills, demonstrating the link between reading and other subject areas and rewarding students and schools for increased performance.

"Over the course of the last seven years, Florida has made great strides in reading achievement, particularly at the elementary school level," said Commissioner Winn. "It is imperative that we carry that success through to the middle and high school levels. There is no doubt that reading is the key to student success. I am looking forward to what a year of motivation combined with top-notch reading instruction can produce for middle school reading performance."

The first installment of the initiative will be the "Commissioner's FCAT Reading Scores Challenge." Each middle school that is able to beat both the percentage of students meeting high standards in reading and the percentage making learning gains will receive certificates from Commissioner Winn and Governor Bush, Just Read, Florida! posters, and flags commemorating their achievement. These schools will also be entered into the qualifying round. The school making the most overall improvement in both categories will win a grand prize of $10,000, courtesy of Bealls Department Stores, Inc., for their school media center. Winners will be announced in May.

"Our corporate giving heritage has always been directed at youth and education. Bealls is proud to support the Governor's reading initiatives and is excited to play a part in the Commissioner's FCAT Reading Scores Challenge," said Bealls Department Stores, Inc. President Conrad Szymanski.

The second contest in the initiative will be "Chancellor Yecke's Summer Reading Book Challenge" and is based on guidelines used by the U.S. Department of Education for their summer reading challenge. The Florida sixth, seventh or eighth grader who reads the most books (a minimum of 15 books are required) and fills out a short online summary notecard will receive prizes. The student's school will also receive prizes. Winners will be announced in September. The recommended reading list will be developed by the Just Read, Florida! Office, in conjunction with the Florida Department of State's Division of Libraries, Florida Association of Media in Education and Florida middle school students.

"Research on adolescent literacy shows us that middle school students are not often given enough time to practice reading and that there is very little motivation to read," said K-12 Public School Chancellor Cheri Pierson Yecke. "This year-long reading challenge offers different ways for middle school students to embrace reading through performance, selecting their own material and exploring the connection between reading and the arts."

The "Governor and First Lady's Reading in the Arts Contest" will be patterned after "Florida's Journey into Narnia" contest, in which more than 3000 essays, 2400 illustrations and 50 short videos were submitted for competition. Middle school students will be able to compete again through essays, illustrations and short films, with prizes for individual student, teacher and school winners. Winners will be announced in December.

More detail regarding the second and third contests included in this initiative will be released at a later date.