Located in Rochester, NY, East High School enrolls approximately 1,770 students in Grades 7–12. East High School runs a middle school autism program that consists of two self-contained classrooms of seventh- and eighth-grade autistic students. The school began using READ 180 in 2006 and the program was first implemented for autistic students in 2009–2010, when the autism program was in its beginning stages. By the 2010–2011 school year, there were two classrooms of autistic students—seventh and eighth grade—with eight students in each class. Of these students, 14 (88%) were male, 13 (81%) received free and reduced-price lunches, and 3 (19%) were English learners (EL). Half (50%) of the students were African American; the remaining students were Latino (13%), White (13%), and Asian (6%).
The program for autistic students at East High School retained the basic READ 180 model; however, some minor modifications were made and increased support was provided for certain components (Table 1). Implemented four days a week, each day began and ended with whole-group, teacher directed instruction, as prescribed, and was delivered to each grade level separately. During the small-group rotations, the two grade levels were combined, and students moved between the two classrooms as they rotated through stations of small-group instruction, independent reading, and individual practice on the software.
In 2010–2011, a group interview was conducted with the seventh and eighth-grade classroom teachers, the literacy coach, and the principal to ascertain their impressions of the effectiveness of READ 180 for the 16 students in the autism program. Brief interviews were also conducted with two students. The interviewees identified a number of specific aspects of READ 180 that they found were particularly beneficial for autistic students and their teachers (Table 2): 1) highly predictable structure; 2) motivating computer-based instruction; 3) high-interest content; 4) visual resources to support comprehension; 5) scaffolded writing; 6) scaffolded support for reading comprehension; and 7) daily, differentiated lessons with teachers and peers. In addition, the teachers reported that the following adjustments and supports helped to make the program successful for autistic students: 1) grouping by reading levels; 2) stations located in separate spaces; 3) occasional supplemental materials to target individual needs; 4) common READ 180 planning time for teaching staff; and 5) ongoing professional development and coaching. See Table 1.
Reading Inventory® results of the 16 autistic students revealed a wide range of reading proficiency and progress across the two classrooms, which is typical among autistic students who experience a variety of cognitive and behavioral challenges. In the 2010–2011 school year, seventh-grade fall Lexile® measures ranged from Beginning Reader (BR) to 796L, while spring Lexile measures ranged from BR to 820L. In the eighth grade, fall Lexile measures ranged from BR to 986L, and spring Lexile measures ranged from BR to 1242L.
The performance of the eight eighth-grade autistic students on the Reading Inventory was explored to demonstrate student gains made while using READ 180 for two years. Four students, who entered the program with some reading proficiency (Lexile measures ranging from 400L to 1000L), made more than one grade level of growth (a range of gains from approximately 200L to 500L) after receiving READ 180 instruction. Three other students, who entered the program with limited reading proficiency, made a range of gains from approximately 50L to 200L after receiving the instruction.
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