The Tamaqua Area School District's elementary and secondary library program should be reinstated because it's important to education and in maintaining a solid curriculum.
That was the message Tuesday evening from former librarian Corinne Betz, Schuylkill Haven. Betz, a media specialist, had been employed for 17 years at the district, serving as high school librarian for the past 15 years and as elementary librarian for the past two years. She was one of the employees laid off earlier this year when the district slashed the budget, trimmed personnel and made curriculum adjustments.
Betz is currently job hunting. But she took time out to attend the regular meeting of the Tamaqua Area district's board of directors at the middle school in order to urge her former employer to reconsider the recent action.
"For school libraries that have a certified school librarian, the PSSA scores go up," she told the board, providing handouts to illustrate her point.
Betz was referring to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.
The annual PSSA is a standards-based, criterion-referenced assessment used to measure a student's attainment of academic standards while also determining the degree to which school programs enable students to attain proficiency of the standards.
In 1999, the Pennsylvania Department of Education adopted academic standards for reading, writing, speaking and listening, and also for mathematics. The standards identify what a student should know and be able to do at varying grade levels. School districts possess the freedom to design curriculum and instruction to ensure that students meet or exceed the standards' expectations.
Every student in grades three through eight and grade eleven is assessed in reading and math. Every student in grades five, eight and eleven is assessed in writing, while every student in grades four, eight and eleven is assessed in science.
Individual student scores can be used to assist teachers in identifying students who may be in need of additional educational opportunities, and school scores provide information to schools and districts for curriculum and instruction improvement discussions and planning.
Outside of the meeting, Betz told the TIMES NEWS that she holds hope the local district will find itself in a position to reinstate the advantages it had once provided.
"I thought that someday in the future there may be funding to reinstate a library at the elementary level," she said. Plus, libraries are essential at the high school level because "the students are doing research papers, term papers and all kinds of research projects," she added.
Betz said she provided instruction to elementary school teachers before her leaving employment at the district so that remaining instructors might be able to work with the library's Destiny book circulation program and computerized card catalog. That way, library services still could be made available to students in the absence of a certified librarian.
Betz says research has shown that PSSA reading scores are higher for students who have a full-time certified librarian than those who do not, and writing scores are three times higher for those with a certified librarian.
Larry Wittig, district board president, acknowledged that he is closely familiar with PSSA scores and the dynamics of curriculum. Wittig was named chairman of the State Board of Education by Governor Tom Corbett in 2011, a role which involved Wittig in hearings across the state to examine curriculum, education and other issues.