5 thoughts on “What’s the MMSD doing for 10th graders who can’t read?”

  1. As school districts across the country have found, students who were only marginal (barely “proficient”) in reading at the end of 3rd grade, stumble and fall behind by 5th grade when the emphasis on teaching reading changes to reading to learn.
    MMSD is not a great deal different than many medium-large districts in the numbers, and many larger districts (like Milwaukee) have far larger gaps in reading to contend with. What is different between those districts that tackle the problem head-on and those that chip away at it is the intensity of the interventions being used.
    Many districts with failing middle and high school readers provide resources targeted at improving cognitive skills needed to be an effective reader (based on research), and those districts have consistently and dramatically improved their reading scores by combining some of the old with some of the new–tutoring AND technology. By learning more about the way the brain learns, schools can be more effective than they have been in the past. Recent research indicates that by strengthening the fundamental cognitive skills of memory, attention, processing and sequencing, we can improve student reading scores by 1 to 2 YEARS in approximately nine weeks of 50 minute per day brain workouts. The research has been replicated numerous times, including medical imaging studies that show the physical changes that take place in the areas of the brain responsible for reading. Could these interventions be used in MMSD middle and high schools? Yes. But not without a major change in understanding how we got to the point of having 10th graders who can’t read effectively. Not all programs can be created from scratch by the staff at MMSD, and considering how much evidence there is from over 30 years of neuroscience research at major universities, I would suggest we can’t wait that long for changes.

  2. Ed,
    The reason for the 24% min/basic in 10th grade is that the constructivist theories of Balanced Literacy/Reading Recovery have not yet been fully expanded into the higher grade levels. Using these theories, now firmly in place at the elementary levels, in a seamless transition from K-12 will solve the problem.
    The WINSS website you cited also reveals this:
    Grade 3: 21.7 min/basic
    Grade 4: 20.7
    Grade 5: 18.3
    Grade 6: 19.4
    Clearly, expanding these theories K-12 will raise scores at least 4%

  3. Reading Recovery could be made more efficient (results 30% faster), and groups of 3 work just as well as 1 on 1. These facts are known by the administration, yet they are powerless to violate the sanctity the RR heirarchy has set up.
    By implementing these changes in elementary school, dozens of personnel could be freed up to help the high school kids.
    Some quotes from the article below. I know its dated but its worth repeating.
    “In fact, research by New Zealand researchers Iverson and Tunmer (1993) in which an explicit phonics component was added to a standard Reading Recovery intervention reduced the time required to complete the program by about 30%.”
    “At least two studies have compared Reading Recovery in a one-to-one grouping with a modified version of “Reading Recovery” administered to a small group (by definition this can’t be Reading Recovery; Evans, 1996; Iversen, 1997). There was no advantage of one-to-one instruction over small group instruction. There are other first grade programs that are demonstrably efficacious, impact more students because they do not require 1:1 tutoring, are easier to implement, and do a better job than Reading Recovery of improving student reading skills because they do not drop students (Snow et al., 1998; Torgesen, 2000).
    Altogether, several studies indicate that teacher: student groupings of 1:3 work as well as groupings of 1:1 (Elbaum et al., 2000). Many of the current NICHD and OSEP pullout interventions utilize group sizes of 1:3 and higher. Thus, solely by virtue of the number of students who can be reached, Reading Recovery is at least 200% more expensive than other first grade interventions.”

  4. The suggestion that Reading Recovery would be more efficient with a 3:1 ratio rather than 1:1 is interesting, because as you indicated, the official stance by the RR group is that a 1:1 ration must be maintained for effectiveness. In working with another intervention that schools across the U.S. have used over the past decade, age can play a role, as well as student receptiveness (behavior), but the ratio of 5:1 and 7:1 at grades 1 & 2 have proven more effective consistently than the 1:1 maintained by RR. When students are not “recovered” by RR, they also tend to be placed in more extensive/expensive programs that take years (if ever) to bring the students to grade level in reading–as evidenced by numerous studies in the special education sector.
    With so much research coming from the neuroscience sector to indicate that there is much more to why students do not “recover” their reading ability, it may be time for schools to catch up to reality. By focusing intensely on only one facet of why the student has fallen behind, schools are missing the opportunity to make permanent, positive changes in the cognitive functioning necessary to learn to read. Medical imaging studies since the early 2000’s have shown that beyond the repetitive work of RR, there are far deeper changes in neural processing, working memory, attention and sequencing that also need to be addressed to reach most struggling learners (at grade 1 or grade 10 or in adults). These studies have been out for over a decade, yet, since the methods that they have found to work do not look like the traditional methods incorporated into reading programs (and RR), they continue to be ignored in many districts–especially those where the need may be the greatest. While schools suggest that budgets are too tight to add new programs, it may be that a small portion of the funding for the intensive 1:1 staffing could be shifted into a fund to actually try new alternatives that other districts have already proven effective. But, probably not in MMSD, and probably not in my lifetime…

  5. The major problems related to poor literacy include institutions of higher education not teaching the science of reading and espousing what is popular, like a Balanced Approach to Literacy and Reading Recovery. RR is a first grade program that is not explicit, nor systematic as the law allows and “balanced” generally means that kids get a little of everything, none of which is explicit nor systematic and is often merely practice reading trade books or literature based basals that most of the students can’t read because they haven’t been taught the skills that are used in the words of the text. RR does not have a good track record for having lasting effects, either, despite the high cost of implementatiion. Most core interventions are not effective for at least 20 % of the students going in and the remedial programs are not strategic nor are they individualized to students’ skill deficits.

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