In fall 2009, Tylertown High School implemented Scientific Learning Reading Assistant™ software to help seventh and eighth graders strengthen their literacy skills and improve their reading proficiency. From 2009 to 2010, students increased their reading comprehension and fluency, and achieved significant gains on Mississippi Curriculum Test – 2nd Edition (MCT2). Thanks to students’ gains, Tylertown High School also raised its state accountability rating.
Tylertown High School, which enrolls nearly 800 students in grades seven through 12, is part of the Walthall County School District. Located in southwest Mississippi, Walthall County has a rich agricultural history and is referred to as “The Cream Pitcher of Mississippi" because it is the primary dairy county in the state. In Tylertown, the county seat, approximately one-third of adults over age 25 do not have a high school diploma.
“In our area of the country, many kids are not encouraged to read at home. There are too many other distractions,” said Blanche Moore, federal programs director for Walthall County School District. “But in high school, students are expected to read and analyze and use higher order thinking skills. If their comprehension and fluency are not where they should be, they have difficulty in their classes — whether it’s in English, biology, U.S. history or math — and don’t do well on state subject area testing. Reading is the key to achieving success in all those areas.”
To address these challenges, Tylertown High School purchased Reading Assistant software using Title 1 funding and began using the software in fall 2009. Reading Assistant combines advanced speech verification technology with scientifically-based interventions to help students strengthen reading fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, no matter what their age.
“Our goals with Reading Assistant are to increase students’ fluency rates and comprehension, and to help them to feel more comfortable when they read aloud,” said Amelia Magee, the reading lab coach at Tylertown High School. “When I arrived here at the high school in 2009, I noticed my students had very low self-esteem when they had to read out loud. With Reading Assistant, students have increased their reading proficiency, both in the lab and in the classroom. Across the school, teachers say they’ve noticed a huge difference in students’ confidence when they read.”
During the 2009-10 school year all seventh and eighth grade students, except those receiving special education services, worked on Reading Assistant software 50 minutes a day, twice a week in the computer lab. Using research-validated speech verification technology, Reading Assistant “listens” to each student as he or she reads aloud. Readers are helped with interactive resources, immediate feedback on errors, and private playback. The software also maintains performance records and the corresponding audio of each guided reading session for review by the student and teacher.
“Before Reading Assistant, students never had to read line for line, word for word. They might scan over material in the classroom and say they read it. Or, with homework, they might read just enough to pick out the answers. But with Reading Assistant, you have to read every word and if you skip a word, you have to go back and read it over again,” said Magee.
To improve content-area reading and learning, Reading Assistant contains highly-illustrated selections grouped in topical clusters, many with a science or social studies theme. This organization helps students build a body of knowledge and read common vocabulary in different contexts.
“Reading Assistant definitely helps with content area teaching,” said Magee. “I love the fact that it contains material we can use along with the curriculum in students’ classes.”
One feature Magee particular likes is that Reading Assistant can be programmed to be more or less strict when monitoring for signs of difficulty. “I like that I can make the program more strict so that it intervenes with assistance when a student is challenged by a word, or less strict to give students time to build their confidence a bit.”
Magee recalls one student, an eighth grader, who had very low self-esteem when he read. “When he started Reading Assistant, I changed the settings to be more lenient,” she said. “Then, once he began to develop confidence in his reading ability, I slowly moved the settings to be more strict as time progressed. His progress was unbelievable. All his life he felt he could not read, but with Reading Assistant that completely changed. I remember when he told me, ‘Ms. Magee I can read! I can read!’ It’s an incredibly useful feature.”
According to Magee, students look forward to coming to the computer lab, and arrive motivated and ready to work. “At the beginning of last year, students dreaded coming to the lab because their motivation levels were low. Now they’re knocking down my door trying to get in. They come to my room and say, ‘When are we going to start? We’re ready to start reading!’ That is so exciting,” she said.
Students also enjoy earning gold stars in the Reading Assistant program. “I keep a bulletin board in my room and when students reach their goal and get a gold star, I post their name on the board as an all-star. They’re very motivated and competitive, and love to try to get their names on the bulletin board,” said Magee.
In addition, Reading Assistant software provides reporting features to help educators continuously monitor student progress and customize instruction. Magee and the classroom teachers also use the quizzes and reports in the program to factor into students’ classroom grades.
“By listening to students as they read and reviewing the reports, I can pinpoint the students I need to watch more closely. Even though I have 300 students throughout the day, the reports make it easy to see how much time students spend reading, listening, and working on the quizzes, so I can intervene as needed. I love the Fluency Report, which measures fluency in words correct per minute for individual readings. It clearly demonstrates how students are improving and shows how the program has made a difference. Last year, one eighth grader went from 28 to 75 words correct per minute. That’s tremendous improvement!”
With Reading Assistant software, students raised their reading levels and achieved significant gains on the MCT2. As a result, Tylertown High School improved its level in the state’s accountability ratings, which are (from highest to lowest): High Performing, Successful, Academic Watch, At Risk of Failing, and Failing.
“Our school's accountability status for the 2008-2009 school year was ‘At Risk of Failing,’” said Magee. “This year, we moved up one level to ‘Academic Watch’ and were only three points away from being ranked as ‘Successful.’”
The school also improved its Quality of Distribution Index (QDI), which represents an overall measure of student performance on statewide assessments during the previous school year. With the QDI, if more students score in the higher proficiency levels on the test, the distribution of scores is more positive. The QDI value can range from 0 (100% of students scoring Minimal) through 300 (100% scoring Advanced).
“From 2008-09 to 2009-10, seventh and eighth grade students’ language arts scores increased 20 percentage points. Our eighth graders showed the most progress of the whole school,” said Magee.
|Tylertown High School|
|Quality of Distribution Index|
“Seeing students’ success tells me we spent our Title I dollars wisely,” said Moore. “We focused on areas — such as reading, comprehension and fluency — that would support students in all other classroom work and help them improve their grades and state assessment scores. We’re very proud of our students’ achievements and growth.”
In 2010-11, Tylertown High School plans to expand the Reading Assistant software to targeted students in grades nine through 12, including those performing below grade level and special education students.
“I’m very excited about this program and how much it’s helped our students. After seeing our students’ success, now every school in our county wants Reading Assistant,” said Magee. “I tell my students that, throughout their lives, they’ll be put in positions where they have to read. Reading Assistant gives our students the skills they need to be able to read with fluency, comprehension, and confidence. I think every child everywhere should have this software. It’s wonderful.”