A representative of the United States Department of Education (USDE) visited rural Central Heights Elementary School today to observe the improvements in reading spearheaded by an initiative new to the school this year – the Kansas Reading Roadmap (KRR).
Central Heights Elementary embraced the reading initiative at the beginning of the school year and in just nine months has seen significant gains in reading in the lower grades of the school.
Jeanne Ackerson, Public Affairs Specialist for USDE, observed students participating in the program at the school in Richmond, KS, and met with administrators, program leaders and parents to learn how the school is making such strides in reading proficiency.
“We liked the four components of the program – the in-school and after school pieces, summer piece, and the family-involvement component, which is very important,” said Ackerson. “We are really looking for programs that are succeeding in mostly rural areas.”
The KRR, launched as one of Governor Sam Brownback’s primary initiatives in 2011, is currently in 40 schools across the state. Through an in-kind donation from the Kansas Department of Education, KRR schools are provided free training for their administrators and teachers on the Multi Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS) approach. This specialized system focuses on the use of leadership teams, curriculum-based measurements, data collection and interpretation, and collaborative teams to refine instructional methods.
“The USDE is looking for programs that are proven to work which it could expand to other states,” said Ackerson. “I really appreciated learning more about this program. I think it has a very interesting approach.”
Ackerson accompanied Principal Ann Collins as they observed the highly interactive after-school program. Following a snack and a short break, students sat on the floor in small groups to identify letters and words, read books aloud, make words with pipe cleaners and write on dry-erase boards.
“The activities the students do are very energetic and active,” said Tabitha Brotherton, KRR Program Coordinator for Central Heights Elementary. The program, entitled MONSTERS (Motivating Our iNcredible Students To Enhance Reading Skills), moves students through three stations, one of which is a physical activity. “It’s a very entertaining and engaging way to learn.”
Collins said that the school recently completed its third round of testing to measure the progress of the program’s participants. She said the gains, demonstrated in testing aligned with school benchmarks, have been nothing less than astounding.
All four grades showed a reduction in the number of students in Tier III, the group having the most difficulty. The number of kindergarten students in Tier III dropped 500%.
“It’s been phenomenal,” said Collins. “When you can get an extra 110 days of instruction from teachers who are passionate about helping kids learn, and then you get the buy-in of parents, you can see the kind of progress we’ve seen, which has been significant. We believe we can change lives by giving students the skills they need to succeed.”
Ackerson asked questions of KRR Executive Director Andrew Hysell, school staff, a school board member and a parent to learn about how the program works, as well as the obstacles that stand between rural schools and reading proficiency.
“I can see that this program is working because I see the enthusiasm and excitement in the teachers,” said Ackerson. “They see the students succeeding, and they are energized by it. And the children are obviously motivated because not only are they having fun, but they’re beginning to believe in themselves and believe they can learn.”
One parent whose child participates in the MONSTERS reading program described how her son has shown marked improvement in his behavior and ability to focus.
“I was worried about whether he could do it,” the mother commented. “But he’s changed a lot. Now he doesn’t complain about reading, he participates in learning activities at home, and his work during the school day has improved drastically.”
The Kansas Reading Roadmap is a project funded by the Kansas Department for Children and Families working in partnership with the Kansas Department of Education.
Photo: United States Department of Education Public Affairs Specialist Jeanne Ackerson discusses the Kansas Reading Roadmap (KRR) with KRR Executive Director Andrew Hysell and Central Heights Elementary School Principal Ann Collins.