• First grade scores still struggling, teachers will focus there next year
BROOKINGS – After a concerning report last summer, organizers of the Reponse to Intervention (RTI) reading program at Brookings School District were happy to report last week that the district more than met its goal of raising benchmarked scores by 10 percent this year.
Many things seem to be falling into place, they say.
“If you remember where these test scores were last year, I think they were dismal,” Superintendent Roger DeGroot said following a presentation to the school board by Diane DeGroot, RTI coordinator and coach, and Mary Sprecher, curriculum director.
“The teachers really rolled up their sleeves; they worked on their comprehensive reading plan and worked extremely hard to get these scores up,” Roger said. “So, I applaud them.”
However, first-graders are still struggling with their reading, and coaches will focus on them next year, Diane and Sprecher said.
This was Brookings’ fourth year using the RTI program, which tests the reading skills of every kindergartener, first-, second- and third-grader using the DIBELS screening (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills).
Students are screened three times, in the fall, winter and spring. These screenings test things like letter naming in kindergarten, nonsense word fluency in first grade, retell fluency in second grade and oral reading fluency in third grade. The type of screening and the goals for students vary as the year progresses.
Last year, the Brookings School District found that as a whole its students were not meeting their RTI reading goals, and some classes had lower scores on the third screening than they did on the first or second.
This year, both Medary and Hillcrest schools developed a comprehensive reading program, which included RTI. Teachers were asked to review their students’ reading data weekly, and to meet with other grade-level teachers weekly to discuss RTI; they were supported by building- and a district-level leadership teams, plus RTI coaches and a phonics screener. Everyone was trained on the updated system, DIBELS Next, and some teachers received additional training.
Teachers identified students who needed the most intensive intervention (these include kids with intellectual disabilities), students who needed strategic intervention, and students who were meeting the RTI benchmark for reading. For strategic and intensive kids, they tried to set aside time in addition to the daily 90-minute reading block for those students to get extra help with their reading.
“This is a huge challenge for teachers, but they really worked hard at doing that,” Diane said.
The most important thing schools did before the 2011-2012 school year was to set a goal: As a whole, district DIBELS scores would show a 10 percent gain, for benchmark students, from the beginning of the year to the end.
“We had a 12 percent gain overall for the district, which we are very happy about,” Diane reported Monday.
The number of kindergartners who were meeting their reading benchmark consistently went up, from the beginning of the year to the end.
The number of first-graders meeting their reading benchmark dropped from the first to second screenings; it rose again for the third, but not to the number meeting benchmark at the first screening.
The number of second-graders meeting benchmark rose consistently from the first through third screening.
Third grade had mixed results: The number students meeting benchmark rose from the first screening to the second, but fell on the third screening to below the level it was at the first screening. (The number of kids needing intensive intervention consistently went down, but a lot of kids got stuck in the strategic intervention stage.)
Overall, Medary did better than Hillcrest, gaining 15 percent in its benchmark scores to Hillcrest’s 9 percent.
First grade presents kids with a big challenge, Diane said, and scores seem to reflect that. They also noticed that 19 students moved out of the district during the year, and others moved in.
“That’s where we just do sounds and letters and things. And then in the fall and in the winter, they are thrown a passage with no pictures to read. And that is a huge thing for the middle of first grade,” she said. “We kind of struggle with that one, and that’s where we have all the questions for any other DIBELS trainers and other RTI coaches, is wondering how they decide that first-graders can read these passages.”
“Other schools have seen these same issues in first grade,” Sprecher added. “And we’ve talked to some schools that have made changes throughout the year that we could look at doing this year.”
Moving forward, teachers and RTI coaches will receive more training, including from a new partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. UNL has accepted both Medary and Hillcrest into a program that will train teachers in RTI assessment and intervention, using in-person training in the summer and help via Skype during the school year.
“It’s a two-year partnership; we’re very anxious to get it going,” Sprecher said.
“I think that’s going to help us a lot,” Diane added.
They’ll focus this coming year on training, team building, aligning RTI with the schools’ comprehensive reading programs, getting extra reading help for kids who need it, and solving the first grade dilemma.
Contact Charis Prunty at firstname.lastname@example.org.