Sunday, April 28, 2013

But Is It Working?

One of the proposed casualties in the administration's list of budget cuts are the district's 10 FTE of reading intervention specialists. The reading intervention specialist positions (mostly .5 FTE each in the district's elementary schools, I believe) were established several years ago to identify elementary school children who were reading below grade level, and to provide more intensive support to them to help them catch up to their grade level.

In my opinion, this is extremely important work. Probably the most important thing that schools can do is make sure that students read well.

So my question is this: Is the reading intervention program working? Is it pulling kids up to grade level?

I know that we don't have a research study set up, with cases and controls, but if those at-risk students were not catching up before, and they are now, then we can likely attribute the success to the reading intervention specialists.

And if they are succeeding, where we have not before? This is not a cut that I want to consider.

And if they are not succeeding? Then we should have cut that program in any case (and probably we should have cut it earlier), with or without any budget cut discussions.

Is this program working? Shouldn't that be part of the discussion?


  1. I have only a single first hand account but Reading Intervention worked extremely well for our daughter. The whole process was proactive--our daughter was identified as being slightly below grade level, was put into RI and within three months she had caught up. It was nice that she didn't have to spend a long time struggling and we didn't have to make a fuss for getting the help she needed. The RI specialist was wonderful. She had many years knowledge and experience and was warm and supportive both to our daughter and to us. This would be a terrible program to cut!

  2. Ruth, you are exactly right that funding for this program should be based on whether it works. Schools should have records on which kids are in RI. At a minimum, there should be data on the amount of time spent in RI and the before/after reading level. Why hasn't Pat Green or Alesia Flye provided information on these types of outcomes?

  3. You are right - this is really the question that we need to ask of almost all of the programs: Are they working and resulting in higher student achievement?

    Most likely there is data (whether collected through lexile scores or testing done by the reading intervention specialists).

  4. Ruth-

    I have been an RI teacher for AAPS for two years. The data indicates it is working. (And certainly , it is working better than no support at all!)

    The thought of a district eliminating early intervention reading support is alarming to me- both as an experienced K-2 teacher, a parent, and a community member.

    Some RI teachers and community members are working on an information webpage with an online petition to support RI in AAPS. We are checking some stats and it be going "live" soon.

    I am happy to talk to you further and answer any questions you have to the best of my ability.

    For me- I am now an activist by chance. It's not about my job- I'm sure they'll find something for me to teach. This is about kids. What is best for kids. And all research indicates that early intervention- using a preventative model- has far better and far more cost effective results- than waiting and relying on remediation.


  5. Ruth,
    Thanks so much for your faithful blogging. I just hate to see our AAPS getting hammered with these kinds of budget cuts. Is the solution more money? I think a little bit more would help, but restructuring has to be part of the solution, and the whole institution has to be on board with restructuring. Traditional schools need to change(true that)and god knows that EAA is a train wreck about to crash.. From the crazy skunks crowd with their endless "Who me? What cookie?" while their hands are deep in the cookie jars, to the out of bounds EAA-dot-org(am I the only one who cringes that their web address is a dot org?) there's so much that needs to be changed, even while people and institutions are trying to change.Nothing being done so far seems to be working. Michigan truly needs new political leaders to emerge from this quicksand pit.
    Keep up the good blogging, and keep helping to explain what is going on these days..

  6. Is the solution more money? I think so, at least in part. Christine Stead rightfully keeps pointing out that Ann Arbor is a "donor district." A very large percent of our taxes are going out the door to support other school districts. Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools points out that the state cut--over the last two years--over $1.8 BILLION from the School Aid Fund--because of business tax cuts. So yes, the solution is more money, at least in part.

  7. Yes, more money would help, but there needs to be structural change as well, or it's the same old, same old. I don't necessarily disagree with being a donor district. The board of ed punted when they shut down negotiations for the next five years,because, as Mike Madison pointed out with his group's suggestions, there is significant room for improvements for how money is spent. I don't agree with everything the AAAA suggested, but there are some solid suggestions in there. Now the teacher's union and board just sidestepped many of those suggestion for five years. That's too long. They were negotiating in response to Snyder and the Repubs threat, not to the schools actual problems, and now they are hamstrung,(until they decide they aren't any more). Those two can decide to reopen negotiations. The board and the AAEA should go back to the table, reopen those contracts and make solid good changes, and go nah-nah-na-nah to the ridiculous Republicans. The district then could get much those costs savings without losing jobs. But those two will only do that when the AAAA accepts some concessions. So, that's how I see we get out of this. Someone has to go talk to the principals, and Mike Madison and lay this out for them.
    Linda Carter can negotiate, she's probably feeling intense heat for what she negotiated already,but, she can only go back and talk to her union only after AAAA takes real concessions and this time, do she needs to do it right. This time she negotiates to keep those threatened jobs and rearrange some of the actual labor going on in the building, so that sanity prevails.
    Just sayin'.

  8. Another data point from my kids' experience with Reading Intervention. While he experienced RI in 1st grade, he made very little progress. The nature of the tutoring centered on practicing the same texts over and over, and he had them memorized within a week. Once the school year ended, and my son was free-er to choose the books he wanted to read, his reading blossomed spectacularly. The Reading Intervention program will claim him as a success, but I disagree. Maybe they helped prime the pump, but my feeling is that a certain amount of brain maturity kicked in and the skill of reading crystallized for him when he was ready.

  9. To anonymous above, I take issue with your easy adoption of the argument that our schools were so horribly broken in the first place (before the republicans completely defunded them). My experiences of our schools were just great. Now they are struggling mightily, with no resources. Before you buy this right-wing argument, read this:

  10. @Anonymous child in RI:

    Barring absences, early level readers would read one new book daily in RI lessons, so you would expect 5 new texts a week. They would also re-read familiar texts daily as practice in addition to these new texts that are introduced introduced daily. The texts alternate: instructional level, independent level. This facilitates the development of independent self-regulation with reading strategies (meaning/ structure/ visual).

    The re-reading component is very powerful and most likely it did "prime the pump," combined with the daily additional coaching and phonics lessons, too. Your child had daily double instruction from both the classroom teacher and the reading teacher. Sometimes some kids need extra help laying the foundation for reading; it's such a blessing when this extra help is in place.

    I am glad you are able to help your child find good book matches at home and that your child is reading at grade level after his/ her combined classroom and supplemental support and hope for continued success.

    It's interesting to think what will happen to kids who don't have extensive support at home if RI is eliminated and how the lower reading proficiency will affect other content areas as students progress through the grades.

  11. I think that's why we have to take a higher-level look at whether RI works, and for whom it works. And my guess (based on data I've asked for for other things) is that the district doesn't have that data.

    There is a developmental piece that is related to reading (something that the Steiner schools very much pick up on). By picking up students who are below grade level in kindergarten and first grade, you both pick up kids who would naturally accelerate (as described above)--the same way that some kids start growing early and others start growing late--and you *also* pick up kids who would keep falling behind.

    I'm reminded of a conversation with my oldest son when he was in first grade--and reading above grade level, but not enjoying it.

    "Why don't you like reading?" I asked him. "It's fun!"
    And he said, "Listen mom, maybe someday reading will be fun. But right now, it's WORK!"

  12. Mary and Ruth, My kid in RI had a natural control group, his twin brother. One was just below and the other just above grade level in reading at the start of 1st grade. After the intensive RI for one, but not the other, both ended 1st grade slightly above grade level.

    When tested at the beginning of 2nd grade, both kids were reading at a mid-4th grade level. Both students followed the pattern of kids in our extended family of a slow start at reading until around age 6.5, followed by very rapid acceleration / crystallization of reading skills.

    I don't know if Reading Intervention would be or has been helpful for students who would continue to fall behind over time, but I do know it isn't in the What Works Clearing House, and that the results for the students in that year were also quite mixed.

  13. What is the What Works Clearinghouse?

  14. There is an article that addresses WWC's ratings of reading programs in this month's "The Reading Teacher". ("What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers", Richard Allington, The Reading Teacher vol 66, Issue 7, pp 520-530, April 2013,

    Of 153 programs studied by WCC, *only* Reading Recovery had "strong evidence" that it improved reading achievement. This is a 1:1 intervention. It is expensive. It is powerful. (I am Reading Recovery trained.)

    Our district created an intervention based on using Reading Recovery practices and lesson components in small groups to serve more kids at a lower cost- and with good results.

    I highly recommend the article- and also the work of Richard Allington.

    I keep refocusing myself and asking: what is best for children?