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Chautauqua adopts program to catch struggling readers early on
Three minutes is all it takes to find out if a student needs extra help with reading.
Every child at Chautauqua Elementary School spent three minutes reading with an adult last month, in a standardized screening that assesses reading skills.
Now, 75 of the elementary school’s 580 students will receive specialized instruction — individually, in small groups and in the classroom — because they aren’t as fluent in reading as they should be.
Chautauqua staff will work with the students intensively to help them reach or approach the reading level appropriate for students their age.
The assessments, and forthcoming reading im-mersion work, are part of the school’s new “Response to Intervention” program — a nationally recognized model that’s designed to offer students early help in the subject areas they’re having difficulty with.
Chautauqua staff decided to implement Response to Intervention, or RTI, with reading first. Math will likely follow in the coming years.
“It’s a whole new way of providing interventions for students who are struggling in reading, because it’s really identifying individual needs,” said Chautauqua principal Kate Baehr.
Screening each student at the beginning of the year gave staff both a broad and a detailed picture of the student body. They were able to see that, overall, most students are reading as well as they should be. Though some students at each grade level lag behind their peers, that’s normal, said Superintendent Michael Soltman.
“I think it’s probably similar to what most schools experience, and there’s always wide diversity in reading skill and development,” he said. “Kids learn to read anywhere from the age of 4 up to the age of 8 — it’s a developmental process that’s pretty individual to each kid. The important thing is we know where each student is developmentally and we’re teaching to that place.”
The 13 percent of students who are least fluent at reading have been identified and will work with tutors and teachers the rest of the year to help improve their reading skills. Five key areas of reading fluency were assessed — phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension — and the students will get help in their weak areas.
“I think teachers have an intuitive sense and a classroom sense of how students are progressing in their class,” Soltman said. “What’s compelling here is that now, teachers have data to back up their impressions of what kids need.”
The 75 students who need the most help will work with classroom teachers, reading teachers and Vashon’s two Americorps volunteers beginning next week, reading together and strengthening each at-risk reader’s proficiency in basic skills.
The students who are getting help will undergo a screening again in six weeks to see if they’re making progress. The entire school will take the three-minute assessment again in February and in the spring, so staff have several opportunities to identify the students who need help.
Logistically, adopting RTI was huge, said Gail Labinski, a Title 1 reading teacher. A dozen school staff and volunteers administered the screens in one week of school. Now, staff are ramping up to provide the interventions for which RTI was named.
“Every child that was deemed to need an intensive dose is getting one-on-one help,” Labinski said. “Every child that was deemed to need a small group will get help, with no more than three in a group. And every teacher who said, ‘My whole class would benefit from this curriculum — teach me how to do it,’ is getting support to do that.”
Students will work with different reading curricula, such as “Six-Minute Solution” and “Visualizing and Verbalizing,” and together with reading tutors and teachers, detail their progress, using tangible tools like charts.
And while Response to Intervention may sound like another standardized test, it’s actually a personalized assessment of learning, Baehr said.
“It’s individually administered, one student and one adult interacting,” she said. “You get more than just a reading score. I think there’s something very powerful about a team of seven or eight interacting individually with every student.”
The tests are standardized “in that they’re norm-referenced, and in that you do the same thing with every student,” Baehr said. “But it’s not like a paper-and-pencil test, not at all.”
“This gives us real direction and real data to go on,” she added.