Literacy study spans 120 schools

Cedar Rapids among districts helping find best practices

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When the governor did not include funding for a new statewide literacy law in his proposed 2016-17 budget, lawmakers delayed implementation a year — moving it from spring 2017 to 2018.

With elections this fall, the political landscape of the Legislature could change by the time Iowa third-graders who fail reading tests would have to either repeat the grade or attend a summer reading program.

But as the new law stands now, districts must start providing summer reading instruction when the law takes effect, which is why Gov. Terry Branstad this summer launched a study to determine the best practices for the program.

The $1.9 million research, conducted by the Iowa Reading Research Center under the auspices of the Iowa Department of Education, encompasses 120 schools in 44 school districts including Cedar Rapids, Marion and West Liberty.

Participating schools used a variety of schedules — different hours, days a week and total duration — and different curriculum models, according to Deborah Reed, the study’s principal investigator.

Researchers won’t start analyzing results until all the data is in — the last schools are planning to wrap up their programs by Aug. 15.

Teachers in pilot program across Iowa are using one of three curriculum models.

The first is a computer-based reading program that has students practice reading through animated games.

“They’re not like, ‘Oh, reading again,’” said Samantha Lynn, a teacher in the pilot program in Cedar Rapids. “I’m glad I can make it fun for them.”

Some teachers were assigned a strictly-controlled “reading mastery” curriculum and are required to read from a script — complete with planned hand movements — when teaching.

One teacher, Melissa Huff, said she thinks her students have responded well to the repetitive structure, which also includes working independently on work sheets.

The third model, dubbed business-as-usual, was assigned to experienced teachers in Cedar Rapids. They’re largely teaching students to read in the same ways they would during a regular school year.

About once a week, all of the students’ reading skills are tested and they complete an online assessment about their emotional well-being — answering questions like “How easy is it for you to understand what you read?” and “How often are you sad when you do poorly in school?”

The skills assessment has students read a passage for one minute as teachers mark their mistakes in an online program.

An official report is expected by year’s end.

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