We have evaluated many grant-funded literacy programs. Title 1 funds have been for providing services to low-income students, and have been traditionally used to support remedial literacy programs. We see that poor reading skills and low income are very strongly connected in many educators’ minds. We’ve had principals, administrators and teachers tell us that low-income and below proficient in reading are inter-changeable.
We saw that these foundational beliefs, together with lack of data skills led to confusion in implementing the Read to Achieve program. The RtA program allowed for a way for students who could not sit for a long test to demonstrate mastery of the content by completing a portfolio over time. This was to be used in rare cases. Yet, we saw school districts that decided there was no way to know who would score proficient by the end of third grade so they had their third grade teachers have all kids complete the portfolios. They did not know that they could tell from the Beginning of Grade (BOG) Reading scores that some of their kids were already proficient and many were on track. We predicted that treating them all as if they were likely not to be able to pass, instead of teaching them standard and enriched curriculum would result in lower scores.
School staff told us that when the data showed that non-poor students needed more help on a topic, the parents would protest that the extra time was for poor kids and they didn’t want their kids getting it. In the literacy programs we evaluated, we found high achieving poor kids getting pulled out of core curriculum for remedial work. We saw summer reading camps enroll students who were proficient.
When the school districts got the green light to use assessments they selected instead of using the alternative standardized reading test provided by the state, we saw that many selected tests that were not aligned to the standards, no reliability or validity had been established.
We saw school districts assign people to be in charge of the RtA data because of their reading program skills, not their data skills. And many had no idea how to produce reports or use the data effectively. In one district that we were working with, after the first year of using the data system for RtA, we found that they had records for only one student in second grade. Something had not been set up correctly and they hadn’t noticed because they never used the data for anything.
Beliefs and Skills of the Staff
Knowing What Can Be Known: They didn’t know that they could use BOG reading scores to identify the students who were not on track to be proficient at the end of 3rd grade.
What At-Risk Means: Both parents and staff believed that additional literacy help was for poor kids. Poor kids who read above grade level were pulled from core curriculum for remedial services and non-poor kids did not get services they may have benefited from.
Not Having Skills to Use Data: They did not know how to use the computer system or how to understand what the data would have told them.
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