I had the great opportunity to speak with Dr. Laura Ryan, former Administrator with the Napa Valley Unified School District where she implemented academic, physical and mental health interventions based on Response Intervention models, about her READ 180/System 44 experience.
Jennifer Aalgaard: Why READ 180 & System 44?
Dr. Laura Ryan: We had worked with a number of other programs that had benefits for students in certain arenas but they weren’t as comprehensive as we would have liked. Further, all of the students were at the same level at the same time which prevented individual students from accelerating their progress. The Read 180/System 44 adaptive software was beautiful because students could move at their pace. Also, the teacher instruction resonated with us.
JA: What were your goals for the program?
LR: The reality was we were at a time when high stakes accountability, including NCLB Program Improvement and the high school exit exam, were coming into play. We knew we had to asses the true need of the learners. What did the students need? When we dug deeper, we found the students needed more support than we thought. When we received the Scholastic Reading Inventory comprehension scores, we realized that a large number of our students needed support with foundational reading skills and these programs were exactly what we needed. We appreciated the way that the READ 180/System 44 classroom is managed, and we found that the instructional program and engagement strategies were perfect for what we needed. Further, we appreciated that the program is data driven at both the student and teacher levels.
Our goal was that every student at every school was going to get the very best reading support that we know. The personalized and supportive relationship that the teacher can develop in this type of model created the environment that would help our students. It was much more intimate and the instruction is absolutely personalized.
Over the years I have come to believe that the hardest part of leading interventions is the need to undo failure. The ability to help students understand and accept that they were challenged with reading and that we could help them was enormous. Our teachers could create a rigorous instructional program while maintaining a safe place for their students.
Did READ 180 & System 44 deliver for our students? No question!
JA: How did you engage teachers to participate in READ 180?
LR: I went to teachers I really respected and shared what READ 180 was. I then offered to have the teachers visit READ 180 classrooms, preferably taught by teachers they knew and respected. We would and provide a sub for the day. If they liked what they saw, I asked them to reach out to me. At least 90% of them did!
JA: What was the student reaction to the new program?
LR: We found really early on that if we started with teachers that bought-in to the program, the students did too. They could see themselves learning. It was VERY rare that we had a student that didn’t want to be there. There was a positive energy. The kids were happy, and they became confident about what they are doing. It is great to walk into a room when a child’s personal needs are being met. There were no children hiding in the corner or needing to pretend that they didn’t have learning challenges.
We focused our initial implementation in the high school and with 2 pilot teachers at the middle school. We knew that starting with content teachers in large numbers at the high school level was very ambitious. While we would have loved to have begun with younger students in a prevention model we focused our work with the students who were closest to the diploma. We wanted to help the students that needed help before they left the district. We immediately began to see positive student results and we made the successes public. When we promoted and celebrated student and teacher success other teachers wanted to participate. We truly believe that teachers make the difference and we supported our teachers with professional development and in-class coaching by their respected peers.
Once we got high school to a good place, we moved to middle school. At our peak 34% of middle school students were in READ 180 and System 44. Today that number has reduced to just 11%. We saw such amazing success in our secondary schools that we began to implement the programs in our elementary schools.
JA: Did you use this model for more than just intervention?
LR: No, but that would be a great idea. This would be a great learning model for all types of classes. We have experimented with using the program design with a “bridge” class that continues to use the rotation model and software however we have substituted the core instructional materials for the READ 180/System 44 curricula.At one point, we had 60% of our third graders on System 44 whether they needed it or not because it was such a great tool.
We did implement the program system-wide and the model supported that because there is a lot of mobility. If students are shifted from schools within the district, it is between 10 minutes to 24 hours for the student to get caught up. It makes the move easier on the student, teacher and parent.
JA: If you could give some words of wisdom about READ 180/ System 44 to those contemplating the program, what would you say?
LR: The Return On Investment (ROI) is key. Systemic implementation of Read 180 and System 44 requires a considerable investment. How can we tell that this was worth it? The scores told us the story. We went from a 65% pass rate for the high school exit exam to 95%. Further, we dramatically reduced the number of students who require Special Education services based upon a Specific Learning Disability from a peak of 1174 to a low of 695! Finally, we have seen a considerable reduction in the students who need this intervention and the students who have had it are successful on both high stakes exams and in their core classes.
Today we have a system-wide implementation of these programs. Our full-scale implementation has allowed us to meet our goal that every student in every school who needs support in reading is receiving the very best instruction we know. We remain committed to our mantra: All means All – Every Kid – Every School – because every child is the most important!
If you are interested in learning more about the program, ask Scholastic to take you on a site-visit to see it in action. Once you see what is possible the more excited you are about what is possible.
Dr. Laura Ryan is an experienced educator who has taught and supported students, staff, and administrators from preK through graduate school. She recently retired from the Napa Valley Unified School District where she implemented academic, physical health, and mental health interventions based on Response to Intervention models. A former director of Special Education, she has worked to bridge the gap between Special and General Education. Dr. Ryan currently presents at the state, national, and international level on topics pertaining to literacy intervention and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. She also consults with district leaders interested in systemic implementation of programs that truly support our most challenged learners.
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