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Three-quarters of the way through her first year as principal of Kathryn Winn Primary, Gerda Wise believes the students are making real progress, and she has the data to back her claims. In fact, she has a whole wall of data managed by Instructional Coach Debbie Cull that lets teachers and school administrators know exactly how students are progressing.
In the school’s conference room, which doubles as its “data room,” hundreds of color-coded cards are each folded in half and attached by a magnet to a white marker board divided by classrooms. Inside each card are the results of various assessments given throughout the year: Rigby READS (Reading Evaluation and Diagnostic System), Read Naturally, and the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment), to name a few. The results for both fall and spring are listed beside each assessment so that teachers can easily see if children are progressing.
“We have been trying to focus on data a lot this year,” Wise said. “After each assessment, we take a look at where the children are as a group as well as where each child is individually and decide what we can do to change instruction for that child.”
Wise said she is very pleased with the progress that kindergarten students are making, with 98 percent being on grade level according to Rigby READS and 85 percent being on track according to Read Naturally, a program that helps students develop fluency, or the rate at which they read.
“We use different interventions to fit the needs of the individual students,” said Wise. “If progress is doubling or tripling, we know the intervention is working.”
In addition to Read Naturally, another intervention is called Earobics, an interactive computer program which helps students develop phonemic awareness, or the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the smallest units of sound in words. Students who can’t hear the difference, for example, between the “d” sound and the “t” sound have difficulty reading words with those letters, Wise said.
Leveled Literacy, an intervention included with the school’s new literacy program, Literacy by Design, has also resulted in dramatic gains in fluency, phonemic awareness, and comprehension. According to Wise, leveled literacy works by having students read and comprehend written materials at a student’s individual reading level, which means that it includes some challenging words, but not enough to frustrate the reader. Wise said that if reading material is too easy for a student, he or she does not make progress.
In addition to the Leveled Literacy intervention program, all teachers are assigning students books that match their individual reading level.
“All of my students know their reading level and which books they can choose from in the classroom library,” said second grade teacher Megan Leach, who labeled all of her books with a corresponding number or letter, representing the reading level of each book. “As they improve their reading skills, I assign more challenging books to keep pushing them to higher levels.”
Wise said that when students are receiving core instruction from the teacher, along with interventions, such as Read Naturally and Leveled Literacy, “we are seeing huge growth.”
To get a more complete picture of each student’s progress, individual teachers meet periodically with Wise, Cull, Reading Specialist Robin Smith, Guidance Counselor Kelley Massie, and Family-School Liaison Cydney Conley to discuss each child and develop a plan to meet his or her needs. In some cases, Conley and Robin Huesman, director of the Family Ties Resource Center, visit homes to meet face-to-face with parents to address different learning barriers the child may be facing.
“The visits improve the communication between the home and school,” said Conley, who has worked to build a positive relationship with the families. She and Huesman have also helped families obtain food, mattresses, or transportation, when needed. “Sometimes families are nervous about coming into school, so when they do come in [for a conference] after we’ve met, there’s at least one familiar face. I’ll introduce them to the principal and she’s great about making them feel comfortable.”
Wise said that Massie has also worked with some families to help them obtain medical or mental health services and that the home-school communication has helped children improve their attendance and academic achievement.
“The home visits have been key, one of the biggest pieces really, in helping kids succeed,” Wise said. “It’s really about pulling everyone together to find out what each individual kid needs, developing a plan, and following through to make sure it’s working.”
And, according to the data, it is working.
Jeff Fremin is director of public relations for Carroll County Public Schools.