January 15, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Four years ago when Lake Orion kindergartners were assessed for pre-reading skills, about 55 percent met the benchmark for that skill.
Three years ago 65 percent met it.
In 2012, successful pre-readers grew to 68 percent of students.
Then, in 2013, 87 percent of kindergartners met the State of Michigan's standards.
Teachers and reading interventionists contribute Lake Orion's unique Early Literacy Intervention Program for this leap of growth, which was installed for the first time in the seven elementary schools last year.
It was so successful, in fact, that the program is extending this year to include first grade as well.
The goal of the program is to ensure all kindergarteners and first graders are ready to move up with the core reading skills needed to become life-long readers.
"Studies and research has shown us that if you can recognize phonemic awareness and have those pre-reading skills, you're going to be a solid reader," Tamura Oberle-Lang said, teacher consultant for LO schools.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize the sounds of letters, of consonants and vowels.
Last year Lake Orion schools received a federal grant which was used largely in part to purchase seven reading interventionists, which were distributed in each elementary school for the program. Interventionists work with teachers and students daily in large group settings, medium group settings, small groups and on an individual basis to ensure every student has mastered the particular reading skill.
Students are assessed every two weeks whether they can move on to the next reading skill.
"I would say the biggest difference is teaching it explicitly, and being very specific to the skill," Jillian Knapp said. "Instead of teaching one way to all students, we are breaking it down and making sure we are teaching it a certain way, targeting it and making it smaller and more specified for all students, and students who struggle. Teaching it to mastery to build the building blocks of reading, "she said.
The intervention program is based on a collaboration of specialists from both the general education department and special education department to unify the spectrum of students.
"What we did between general education and special education is we brought all the experts together and we talk about all the students, look at all the data. Then there is no division between this is your child or this is my child, they're all of our children, what are we each going to do to move them forward," Julie Stucky, director of the district's special education department, said. "Our goal is to make sure no kindergartner falls through the cracks."
Every month the teachers and specialists meet with the school psychologist for professional development, to look at data, make decisions, and develop a unique consistency between the buildings.
Oberle said reading is broken down into five areas, and specialists have broken down those areas so uniquely that they can say a child is struggling in a specific area, then target it.
Many of the skills start before a student enters kindergarten.
"Phonemic awareness is actually before the letters. It's understanding the sound of the spoken language," Stucky said. "So for you to read to your child, the earlier the better. When you talk, you're talking in sentences, and sentences are made of words, and words are broken up into little teeny parts of structure, and it's very, very important for them to hear rhyming, and be exposed to it. Clap to the words, clap to the syllables," she said.
First grade teachers said they noticed a big difference in the students coming into their classrooms, Heidi Kast, assistant superintendent of curriculum, assessment and instruction, said.
This year first grade teachers are collaborating with the specialist teams and analyzing assessment data in order to extend the unique targeting skills into their classrooms.
"We've allowed staff to become experts in reading and then work with the students, rather than everybody trying to do everything. We've actually helped someone become an expert," Kast said.