NSSD commits to improving reading literacy
By Lauren Evans
MT. PLEASANT – The North Sanpete School District, under direction of the Utah State Office of Education, has put together a plan for the 2018-19 school year to improve reading performance among North Sanpete elementary students.
Although the district has been working on improving literacy in the elementary grades for years, this is the first year it has been required to write up a detailed plan in a required format, which had to be approved by the state, says Randy Shelley, assistant superintendent.
At the end of the 2016-17 school year, Shelley put together a team of educators with expertise in teaching reading at the elementary level to write the plan.
The team included Allynne Mower, principal of Fairview Elementary; Chalyece Shelley, district special education coordinator; and Brook Henrie, one of the four “instructional coaches” who work out of the district office, but consult with teachers on their teaching methods and how to help students who aren’t making progress.
Meanwhile, the state sent a list of a list of goals it wanted included in the plan. The state expectations relied heavily on the DIBELS test (the acronym stands for Dynamic Indicators or Basic Early Literacy Skills), which is a test to measure a student’s proficiency and fluency in recognizing sounds and words and reading passages.
The test is taken three times each year and increases in difficulty by grade. Most schools in Utah administer the test in the first through third grades, but North Sanpete continues to test through the sixth grade.
The goals set by the state and the district are progress based. The idea is to focus not just on what percentage of children reach “proficiency” levels, but on how much progress students make over the course of the year.
Progress-based goals are easier for teachers to work with and more achievable, Shelley says.
Right now, 60-65 percent of North Sanpete elementary students in the K-3 grades read at grade level or above.
The first major goal expressed in the literacy plan is to increase the percentage of students who test proficient at the end of first grade by 11 percent, compared to the 8 percent average increase over the previous three years.
The second goal is to decrease the percentage of students who are behind by the end of first grade by 15 percent. The average over the past three years has been a decrease of 11 percent.
Cutting the percentage of children who do not test proficient by 15 percent “is a big ask,” Shelley says. “We’ll see if we can do it.”
The plan also focuses on providing individual help for students who are below “proficient.” These help sessions are called interventions and can range from having children read with the better readers in class to reading one-on-one with paraprofessionals.
“We’re trying to customize the intervention based on the child,” she says.
Student progress in these interventions is monitored and documented by teachers, principals and district-level instructional coaches. If a student is just struggling a little bit, the child’s progress may be monitored once per month. If the child is a long way behind, progress may be monitored weekly.
By completing and gaining state approval for the new literacy plan, the district has received $101,000 in state money, which can go for teacher training and other expenses connected with plan implementation.
Although not an official goal in this year’s literacy plan, the state literacy director says 95 percent of students in the school system should read at grade level, according to Shelley. That’s all students except for the inevitable 4-5 percent of the population who have severe disabilities and will never learn to read at normal levels.
“We have a long way to go to get to what the state expects,” Shelley says.