I love data. My interest in changing the predicted downward slope for students who entered kindergarten with low reading-readiness skills grew from gathering data. Long before state tests became mandatory, I collected data during the summer from more than 1,000 students in my three-building elementary school. I gathered reading data from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program on students in grades 3 and 5 and from the district-prepared reading assessment for kindergarteners.
Over the past 13 years, 25%-40% of our kindergarteners were not ready for school when they entered school; this information was based on the Kindergarten Performance Assessment for reading and math, a district-prepared test given in the fall. These students had been slow to develop reading-readiness skills and by the end of third grade, the data documented a greater than 90% correlation between slow-to-develop reading readiness and subsequent enrollment in corrective reading services, speech-language intervention, and/or special education. By third grade, they were still reading on a basic level on statewide assessments that determine adequate yearly progress.
I've been at the same elementary school for 15 years and am grateful that staffing for speech-language pathology has grown to 1.8 full-time equivalent positions. I knew the time had come to make a change in reading intervention when the primary reading specialist retired and the kindergarten paraprofessional told me that although she wanted to continue to work with the same students with low reading achievement, she had time constraints.
The paraprofessional and I proposed to our administration a change in the delivery of corrective reading services. The new approach would incorporate a response-to-intervention model using a collaborative learning format in the general education setting. We then approached the recently hired reading specialist and began planning a collaborative reading program, "Gator Readers," named after our school mascot. Our plan was to launch it the next school year.
The reading specialist chose a research-based reading program that has multiple test forms as the assessment and progress monitoring tool. This reading program assesses phonemic awareness, fluency, and comprehension skills; the school district's plan was to adopt this assessment for kindergarteners in the near future. Students were selected as potential candidates for the program based on their end-of-year reading progress in kindergarten and were grouped into four of the eight first-grade classrooms.
Two years ago, 24 first-graders with the lowest phonemic awareness and sight-word scores qualified for Gator Readers. In the first two weeks of school, our program was up and running. The students were divided into four groups based on strengths and weaknesses in phonemic awareness, sight-word recognition, and decoding. The students remained in their classrooms for whole-group and small-group reading instruction but were pulled out of the classroom for the Gator Readers intervention program for two 30-minute sessions Monday through Thursday. The fifth day was our planning day. Our administrators supported us by planning the master schedule around our program scheduling needs.
Now in the third year of the program, I work with students in the Gator Readers program who have speech-language deficits affecting literacy. The literacy goals also help students carry over their articulation skills as well as address the speech-language deficits affecting literacy. Because I have training in systematic, structured, multisensory reading programs that focus on phoneme segmentation and sight word visualization, the kindergarten paraprofessional and I focus on phonemic awareness skills, sight words, and spelling. The reading specialist and the reading paraprofessional focus on decoding, vocabulary use in context, and reading comprehension.
Collaboration among general education teachers, the reading specialist, two paraprofessionals, and me can be a challenge. The reading specialist and I meet with teachers during our weekly professional learning community (PLC) sessions before the school day begins. Other grade-level teachers also meet at the same time to discuss the needs of their low-performing students. Some weeks I attend other PLCs to discuss the needs of other speech-language students on my caseload. The Gator Readers interventionists meet on Fridays to plan the scope and sequence of our lessons to follow the first-grade reading program.
Progress is monitored through daily charting, and students' response to our intervention leads to weekly revisions of lesson plans. Every 10 weeks students are reevaluated using the eligibility assessment and sight-word recognition tests to determine if they are learning at an adequate rate. A PowerPoint slide presentation was created for paraprofessionals' use in testing for sight words.
At the end of first grade, 15 of the 24 students in the 2006–2007 program were reading at grade level and five students were reading at mid-first-grade level. Four students qualified for special education, indicated by data documenting slow progress as compared with peers in our Gator Reader program (see chart [PDF]). Previously, few first-graders demonstrated a large enough discrepancy to qualify for special education services. As SLPs we can make changes to school-wide programs by using data to document the need for change, analyzing what should be changed, and recording the results.