February 05, 2020
According to a 2019 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, fewer than 40% of students in the United States demonstrate proficient levels of reading. Specifically:
That means that almost two-thirds of our nation’s students struggle to achieve grade-level reading proficiency for the entirety of their primary and secondary school careers. Consequently, nearly every school district has implemented or plans to implement a reading intervention program that yields rapid results.
However, not every reading intervention program is made equal, and there are a lot of factors to consider before you make the investment.
It should come as no surprise that evidence of effectiveness is considered to be the biggest influence on decision-making for the majority of educators. When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed in 2015, educators increased their focus on programs with evidence of impact to ensure better student outcomes.
“Effectiveness is huge, and most programs have some measures of data,” says Larry Shifflett, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Learning for Rockingham County Public Schools. “We rely on our teachers and their expertise to say, ‘here [are] the gains we’re seeing with the kids, and here’s the ease of the program and how it works’…so teacher buy-in is tremendous. They’ll know if it’s a good program or not.
Of course, teacher judgment follows close behind, as a reading intervention can be implemented in a broad range of contexts, including across the whole school, in a subject-area classroom, or through a supplemental program. Teachers will be the ones directing and overseeing student use of the program, so having their buy-in is critical.
Although a wealth of success stories from other schools and districts can point you in the right direction, you should also consider piloting the program in your particular school or district to understand if it’s right for you.
After all, as Shifflett says, “The programs are no better than the people who run them…. We’re professionals, we’re the educators—and the programs are tools and resources we use to move [students] along.”
Therefore, Shifflett advises, when you evaluate reading intervention programs, you should consider their flexibility and ensure that you’re taking into account teachers’ opinions of each program. How well can your teachers work with and around the program to maximize its effectiveness?
As a teacher working directly with students in the classroom, Beth Carabetta, Reading Coach, Maloney High School in Meriden, CT, sets her students up for success by remaining flexible in her instructional approach, allowing students to select the texts of most interest to them, and encouraging students to continue their reading practice outside of the classroom.
“Students—especially at the high school level—like to have a choice in the materials they’re reading and have some control over what they’re reading, provided that it’s at their level,” says Carabetta. “With the Reading Plus program, that’s definitely something that students have the ability to do.”
“Another thing that’s important to student success is being able to offer anytime-anywhere learning,” she continues. “To really make gains in reading, being able to utilize a program not only within the walls of the classroom but outside of the classroom as well.”
That flexibility and control over what, when, and where students can engage with texts is one of the key characteristics to look for in your reading intervention.
“We were looking for [a reading intervention program] to give [students] confidence and make them feel empowered,” agrees Susan Perrone, Supervisor of Curriculum & Accountability, Meriden Public Schools, who supports Carabetta at the district level. “We wanted to make sure that, as secondary students, they weren’t looking at things that were elementary. We wanted a program that had choice…that motivated them to change…that made them want to learn. Reading Plus really seemed to hit that mark.”
Of course, cost will always be an influencing factor, but choosing an easy-to-use, flexible, and evidence-based product will help you maximize your return on investment.
Once you’ve chosen a reading intervention that suits your needs, how do you implement it to ensure its success?
With experience both as an educator and on the Product team at Reading Plus, Jenny Eisenman, Director of Education at Reading Plus, can speak to the most important ingredients for ensuring a successful implementation of your reading intervention.
“I’ve had this wonderful opportunity—really a privilege—to see successful implementations in a variety of contexts,” says Eisenman. “The successful implementations really have commonality in terms of these four key ingredients.”
Those four ingredients are:
Effective school leaders who encourage a culture of literacy to keep both teachers and students engaged in reading instruction may have the biggest influence on the success of your reading intervention.
This includes leadership that starts at the district level and extends down to the building levels as well. When leaders are committed to the program, willing to invest their time and energy into making sure it’s successful, and communicative about its importance, reading intervention programs are more likely to provide the reading growth that your students need.
“We all know what [a healthy culture] looks like and what that feels like when we see it,” says Eisenman. “Teachers and students who feel safe, who feel valued, students who are ready to learn, [are] engaged with their learning [and take] ownership of their learning.”
This culture of safe, healthy, confident learning gives students the intrinsic motivation they need to drastically improve their reading scores. Motivation—along with comprehension and silent reading efficiency—is one of the most important components of developing reading skills in students.
“Acknowledge their progress and accomplishments no matter how small they are,” says Carabetta, “because many of these students who need intervention are frustrated. They need the encouragement and the confidence to know that they are growing as readers.”
At the end of the day, teachers are the leaders in their classrooms, and they already have strong relationships with their students. The teacher is the one who is going to help students believe that the program will work for them, as well as make use of formative data that comes out of an online program to adjust and improve instruction as needed. Providing teachers with the support they need will be essential to the program’s success.
“I always have beginning-of-the-year training for teachers,” explains Julie Bowers Matney, District-Wide Intervention Coach and Student Support Leader, Sullivan County Department of Education. “And I always try to make sure that about nine weeks in, we have another training, because, by that time, we have data on the program…that will help us intervene with what the students need at that time.”