In an era of heightened educational standards, there has been a substantial increase in the rigor of literacy goals and expectations at even the earliest grades. This has raised awareness of the importance of foundational literacy skills for beginning readers, as attainment of these skills is critical to being able to read and comprehend the complex texts that students will face as they progress throughout their education. As such, iRead was developed to provide explicit, systematic instruction and individualized, ongoing practice in foundational literacy skills. It targets the areas that students are struggling with and provides early intervention and personalized practice in these areas as students work toward proficiency in each skill. The study presented in this research update examined the effectiveness of iRead at providing foundational literacy skills instruction for students in Grades K–2 in a large suburban school district in California. These results indicate that iRead is an effective early intervention for struggling readers.
Teaching reading to young students, especially foundational literacy skills, is urgent. “No time is as precious or as fleeting as the first years of formal schooling. Research consistently shows that children who get off to a good start in reading rarely stumble. Those who fall behind tend to stay behind for the rest of their academic lives” (Burns, Griffin, & Snow, 1999). According to the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report, struggling readers have an oral reading fluency at the end of third grade that is equivalent to the oral reading fluency of successful readers at the end of first grade (US DOE, 2001). This is not acceptable, as these students who start behind may never catch up as the years progress. A longitudinal study conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (2010) found that one-third of all third grade students are struggling readers. Those who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times less likely to graduate, and the most struggling readers are ten times less likely to graduate.
Learning to read skillfully is a complex process that builds upon foundational literacy skills. As the research shows, students’ knowledge of the correspondence between sounds and spellings determines their ability to read single words with speed and accuracy, which in turn predicts their ability to read and comprehend texts (Adams & Bruck, 1995; Scarborough, 2001; Wagner, 2008). Thus, explicit and systematic instruction in foundational literacy skills, such as phonological awareness, phonics, fluency in word recognition and text processing, spelling, encoding, vocabulary, and language development, combined with frequent engagement with connected text, is an effective method for teaching students to comprehend text in a way that will allow them to read skillfully (Adams, 1990; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; Moats, 2012). As this report demonstrates, iRead provides such instruction.
Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD) is representative of school districts in California, serving 18,497 students in 30 schools during the 2013–2014 school year. At the time of this study, the majority of students in the district were Hispanic or Latino (52%), approximately 31% were White, 7% were other races or two or more races, 6% were Filipino, and 2.6% were African American. Twelve percent were students with disabilities, 22% were considered English learners (EL), and 45% were eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
During the 2013–2014 school year, NVUSD adopted iRead, a digital foundational reading program, for all students in Grades K–2 district-wide. iRead was implemented as a supplement to the regular English Language Arts (ELA) core curriculum. With the goal of preventing reading difficulty, the district developed an implementation road map for iRead that followed an early literacy pyramid consisting of 10 areas of focus:
Using a multistage rollout, NVUSD began iRead implementation with grades and classrooms that had the technology, commitment, and interest up front. Due to its early successes, NVUSD continued to expand its iRead implementation until 18 of its 19 elementary schools were implementing the program with moderate to high levels of fidelity. Throughout the school year, iRead usage increased as NVUSD added more computers to individual classrooms and more computer labs to elementary school campuses.
NVUSD’s leaders were committed to professional development for their teachers that highlighted the ways in which iRead, as a personalized foundational reading program, could benefit beginning readers, especially those that are struggling. In order to establish a foundation for sustainability and long-term success, NVUSD partnered with the Scholastic Professional Services team to provide a systematic and comprehensive strategy for professional development. During the summer prior to the 2013–2014 school year, an initial iRead professional learning session was provided. During the school year, follow-up professional learning sessions for teachers were also provided. Ongoing iRead professional development included coaching days, site visits, and classroom observations. In addition, administrators and resource specialists received iRead data analytics training. NVUSD also ensured that teachers were supported by an iRead “point person” or leader at each school. The iRead leaders received additional professional development provided by NVUSD and Scholastic Professional Services including eight monthly cadre meetings and four half-day literacy seminars.
All schools received a set of print materials. In addition, all iRead teachers received a set of digital tools, including actionable data and reports, strategic grouping tools, Interactive Learning Tools, and learning resources. To further support teachers, the district’s iRead coach created an iRead website allowing access to additional iRead resources.
Students used the iRead software for 20–30 minutes daily, either in the classroom during a rotational center, the computer lab as a whole-class activity, or a combination of both. In addition, struggling students were given more time on the iRead software before and after school, as well as during the morning intervention block. To further support struggling students, NVUSD implemented iRead for an extended school year, thereby allowing students to continue using iRead during the summer months. The data collected and analyzed in this report reflects students’ iRead use during the regular school year, from August 2013 through May 2014.
A total of 3,147 students at 18 elementary schools using iRead were included in this analysis. To be included in this analysis a student had to meet three criteria: 1) completed the iRead Screener; 2) completed at least one iRead session; and 3) had available demographic information. Of the included students, 55% were Hispanic or Latino, 31% were White, 8% were Filipino, 4% were of other races or two or more races, and 2% were African American. Nine percent were students with disabilities, 43% were considered English learners (EL), and 54% were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Of these, 1,148 were included in the DIBELS® Next analysis. Forty iRead teachers and 12 school administrators responded to a survey administered in the spring.
The iRead Screener is designed to determine if students in Grades K–2 are fluent in four foundational reading skills: phonological and phonemic awareness, letter name knowledge, sight word reading, and phonics and decoding. The iRead Screener is an 82-item multistage assessment that is administered individually via a computer. The iRead Screener can be used for two purposes: 1) to screen for fluency in foundational reading skills; and 2) to place students into the appropriate instructional level within the scope and sequence of the iRead Software. The iRead Screener was administered during the fall of 2013 (September–October).
iRead usage data was collected during student use of the software program to determine the amount of time students spent on the software. The number of sessions that took place during this time was collected, as well as the number of iRead topics, series, and units that were completed.
DIBELS Next is designed to identify students experiencing difficulty in acquiring basic early literacy skills and provides information on four critical skills for beginning reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. Student performance is reported as both a scale score and as one of three corresponding performance levels: At or Above Benchmark, Below Benchmark, and Well Below Benchmark. For the purposes of this analysis, students’ end of year (spring) performance levels on the Nonsense Words Fluency (Correct Letter Sounds) subtest and the Oral Reading Fluency (Words Correct) subtest were examined. These subtests were administered during the spring of 2014 (April–May).
In May of the 2013–2014 school year, an electronic survey was disseminated to all iRead teachers and administrators in the district. The survey was designed to gather feedback from teachers and administrators about their experiences implementing iRead and their perceptions of the instructional value of iRead. The survey included both open-ended and closed-ended response options.
Results from the initial iRead Screener demonstrated that a large percentage of students were struggling with foundational reading skills. On average, 57% of Grade 1 students placed into iRead below (14%) or far below (43%) grade level in the fall. Of Grade 2 students, 50% placed into iRead below (17%) or far below (33%) grade level. All kindergarten students automatically placed into iRead on grade level, at the beginning of the scope and sequence.
Across the grades, students used the iRead software an average of 32.7 hours over the year. An average of 81 sessions took place during this time, which resulted in the completion of 82 topics. On average, students used the iRead software 24 minutes a day, 2.3 times a week.
Nonsense Words Fluency—Correct Letter Sounds (NWF—CLS) Subtest Findings: Grade 1
Of the most at-risk first grade students (those who scored far below grade level on the iRead Screener), a greater percentage of students who had completed 100 or more iRead topics over the course of the school year performed At or Above Benchmark on DIBELS Next NWF-CLS subtest by spring as compared to students who completed fewer than 100 iRead topics (60% and 44%, respectively). Similarly, a greater percentage of at-risk first grade students (those who scored below grade level on the iRead Screener) who had completed 100 or more iRead topics over the course of the school year performed At or Above Benchmark by spring on DIBELS Next NWF-CLS subtest, as compared to students who completed fewer than 100 iRead topics (97% and 73%, respectively). See Graph 1.
Oral Reading Fluency—Words Correct (ORF—WC) Subtest Findings: Grade 1 and Grade 2
Of the most at-risk students (those who scored far below grade level on the iRead Screener), a greater percentage of first and second grade students performed At or Above Benchmark on DIBELS Next ORF-WC by spring if they had completed 100 or more iRead topics over the course of the school year as compared to students who completed fewer than 100 iRead topics (35% and 25%; 38% and 14%, respectively). This trend held for first and second grade at-risk students who scored below grade level on the iRead Screener as well (90% and 48%; 69% and 34%, respectively). See Graph 2.
Teacher and Administrator Survey
As Graph 3 illustrates, teacher survey responses showed that 75% to 80% of teachers felt that iRead was beneficial for on grade level students, as well as English learners and struggling students. Seventy-eight percent of teachers would recommend iRead to other K–2 teachers. Teachers’ open-ended responses lent further support to the value of iRead. One teacher’s response intimated the following: “My students love iRead. I appreciate that iRead moves at the pace of my students and gives me feedback so that I know when to step in and provide further instruction on a specific topic to help them be successful.”
Administrator survey responses showed that administrators also felt that iRead was beneficial for students, especially for students who are below or far below grade level. One administrator response intimated the following: “Teachers see stronger on grade level readers than in years past and it helped many of our below grade level second graders catch up. It was great to see many struggling readers make a grade level (or more) of progress in iRead, even if they aren’t at grade level yet—the progress is encouraging.” Another administrator stated the following: “More kindergarten, first and second graders are reading on or above grade level than in previous years.”
The findings of this yearlong study conducted in NVUSD reveal that iRead has the potential to help move struggling students in the early grades closer to proficiency of grade-level foundational literacy skills so that they will be able to read and comprehend complex texts as they progress throughout their education. Results from the analyses support the benefits of iRead, especially for at-risk students, as a regular supplement to early literacy curriculum. In particular, students who scored far below or below grade level on the iRead Screener and completed 100 topics or more in iRead were more likely to perform At or Above Benchmark on DIBELS Next at the end of the school year.
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