Oxford Public Schools, a predominantly low-income, rural Pennsylvania school district, partnered with American Reading Company and reduced its Special Education referrals by 90%. After 180 days, the commitment of ACTION 100 executive coaches, principals, teachers, and parents to this RtI model brought exceptional results. For the first time since 2002, all district elementary schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act legislation by meeting or exceeding the requirements for student proficiency in reading and math on the 2010 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). Remarkable gains were also made in reading by the district’s special education students, the population of which is higher than average in Oxford schools.
When compared to their test scores as third-graders in 2009, 40 out of 43 special education students at Nottingham Elementary School, one of the four participating elementary schools, showed improvement in their reading scores when tested in fourth grade this past school year. Similarly, 198 out of the 225 fourth-grade general education students at Nottingham improved their reading scores on the PSSA. Of those 198, 152 increased their scores by 100 points or more.
Superintendent Dr. Raymond A. Fischer credits the instructional leadership in the buildings as one of the driving factors behind the improved test scores. “The instructional leadership was supported by ACTION 100, which the district implemented using stimulus funds,” he noted.
ACTION 100 is not a program, but an integrated system that when implemented with strong leadership and fidelity, produces stunning results. Further, it is a comprehensive RtI model that takes seriously the research and practice that support a sophisticated and sustainable reading intervention system for every classroom. Simply put, the model turns every classroom teacher into a reading specialist, prepared to deliver intensive intervention. The school becomes a learning community around a culture of rapid reading growth. Aspects of the system have the following elements, but are non-linear in that all must be present to guarantee results:
Intensive executive coaching for the principal or director on creating a reading culture at their school
Thirty days of professional development modeled for teachers with the children present and participating with goal of decreasing variability among teachers
Thousands of leveled titles for self-selected independent reading in school and at home (240 publishers)
A leveling system and reading curriculum written to the Common Core Standards for Reading providing for quantitative formative assessment
Real-time, daily tracking of participation and rate of reading growth capable of aggregating and disaggregating formative assessment data using SchoolPace
Parents trained as “home reading coaches” and participants in the monitoring process
The TOOLS and PROCESSES
Shortly after the first day of school on August 30, 2009, students in the Oxford Area School District kicked off the year with the “100 Book Challenge,” the backbone of ACTION 100.
Designed to encourage students to read independently, the 100 Book Challenge is being used successfully in more than 1,400 schools in 256 school districts across the United States. As part of the program, students select fiction and nonfiction books from thousands of hand-leveled titles at their developmentally appropriate independent reading levels which they can read at school and at home. Teachers then introduce daily Readers’ Workshops to connect classroom instruction (existing core reading program) to independent reading and conduct one-on-one conferences with students, focusing on issues such as book selection and reading comprehension. Each district elementary school and Penn‘s Grove Middle School present students with rewards such as prizes, certificates or medals as they achieve various “steps” in the program. One step is equivalent to 15 minutes of reading, and students are expected to achieve at least two steps, or 30 minutes of reading, at home each evening. Program materials are sent home to help support parents in serving as their children’s “home reading coaches.”
ACTION 100 is designed to ensure assessment of independent reading while also training teachers and administrators on how to assess, identify and monitor student reading progress. Teachers took part in 30 days of weekly onsite training, where they were introduced to the reading materials and worked side by side with American Reading Company coaches to enhance their knowledge of reading instruction. Teachers were trained to provide explicit instruction to remove blockers to a student’s rapid movement toward grade level reading proficiency, as well as the classroom management skills needed for small group and one-to-one instruction.
“The coaches came back every week and modeled quality reading instructional practices for our teachers,” said Dr. Fischer, adding that the persistence and urgency the coaches exhibited was motivating for the teaching staff. “Our teachers are dedicated to continuous learning, and the result has been tremendous growth in student achievement this year.”
Dr. Fischer added that SchoolPace, the daily, real-time data dashboard, kept teachers engaged. “When coaches would come back to examine student progress cards, it was clear which students and teachers were meeting reading level expectations and which ones were not,” he explained. “Working together, American Reading Company coaches and Oxford teachers could pinpoint strategies for helping individual students progress with their reading skills on a daily basis.
“ACTION 100 has helped us to see that meeting the needs of students with varying abilities is an exciting challenge that could be accomplished. One of our goals was to have a whole building of reading specialists, and that’s what we were able to accomplish with ACTION 100.”
What accelerated such stunning results? The BIG THREE.
- 1. The principal became the internal trust builder among stakeholders.
- When teachers moved onto unfamiliar terrain, having been trained as a reading expert, the principal became the de facto “director of literacy.” Transparent, tough, accountable relationships were forged, and expectations were raised and met, daily, based on data.
- 2. Instructionally useful data began to change everyone‘s behavior.
- Using what has now become the Common Core Standards, formative assessment for instruction not of instruction changed what teachers said and did when working with individual students driving independent reading.
- 3. ACTION 100 became the management system for the entire reading block, leveraging all existing materials around what each student needed.
- The commonly used daily metric was “the number of steps read” daily. Teacher-friendly data input provided immediate and transparent knowledge of reading growth, which proved to be highly predictive of reading success.
The partnership between Oxford Public School District and ACTION 100 resulted in a culture change. The district leadership created a culture of coaching that keeps principals, teachers, parents and students on a trajectory on continuous reading improvement, which positively impacts math scores, as well. Teacher expertise increased when their skill set for reading instruction was broadened and their goal became formative assessment of how students were applying their “fledgling decoding and comprehension skills” when reading independently. As a result of targeted instruction and the right kind of reading practice, with sufficient volume to increase reading stamina and comprehension, no one in Oxford schools is afraid of the #2 pencil on testing day.