New Elementary Reading Program Instituted at Carbon School District

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Pictured: Wellington Principal Stacy Basinger leads one of the collaboration sessions on the new reading basal during the an early out Monday teachers preparation time. Teachers and administrators come from all over the district to Castle Heights Elementary for the meetings each month.

Carbon School District Press Release

One of the major components of teaching students in elementary schools is the reading program. Last spring, the district purchased a new reading basal that is being implemented this school year. For many, it has been long in coming because the old reading system had become a patchwork of several older programs and online resources.

“The program we have been using is the Scott Foresman Reading Street program, which the district purchased in 2006 when Peterson Elementary (now Bruin Point) and Wellington Elementary were participating in the Reading First Grant,” stated Stacy Basinger, the principal at Wellington Elementary. “At that time, the Scott Foresman program was selected because it was the strongest in the big five components of reading: phonics, phonemic awareness (phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness in which listeners are able to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound that can differentiate meaning), vocabulary, comprehension and writing.”

But only a few years after implementation, the state core changed and that core included a more rigorous regimen. The new standards and objectives included higher level thinking and more complex skills in reading and writing.

“Since we had just purchased that reading program a few years prior, we weren’t at a point where we were ready to get a new program again,” said Basinger. “For one, reading programs are expensive, and secondly, purchasing products right after a core curriculum change doesn’t always benefit instruction. Companies will promote their product as ‘core aligned’, when in reality they use their same product and change some lingo within the program to sell it as ‘core aligned’. For several years, we have been playing the ‘supplemental game,” adding to the program where we needed. In our supplemental efforts, we created a problem. We got to a point where each school slowly began using something different to adhere to the reading and writing core curriculum. This practice created a hurdle when it came to meeting professional development needs because we had issues where there were vast differences between the programs being used in the various schools. With professional development, we need to be able to say, here are your resources and here is how you use it to improve your students’ reading and writing skills.”

She explained that another problem with using a “supplemental program” approach relates to the transitions that often happen in Carbon District. Students move from one school to another, and because the schools were using different programs that pace the instruction differently, students may have already received instruction in concepts or even missed instruction completely in content areas. Due to the pacing of instruction varying from school to school, a true struggle developed for several years.

“Then, about two years ago, we went through a process with teachers to identify what standards were most essential for each core area,” explained Basinger. “The teachers recognized and wanted to address the problem, and it was necessary for commonality between schools. We got to the point where we identified the essential standards, and then we moved to creating a pacing guide for schools to follow that outlined all standards and the pacing of their instruction. Last year, we spent time improving common assessments. Through this process, each school was still using different programs, and through our efforts we improved our pacing issues, but we still had concerns with meeting the instructional support needs our teachers were having. We knew if we wanted professional development to be meaningful, we needed to get something in common going, which meant addressing the reading programs being used.”

In December of last year, district personnel began to look at other school districts that were similar to Carbon, and they started asking questions of them about their reading programs.

“We wanted to know what was being used, the strengths and weaknesses they had discovered,” said Basinger.  “We also sought guidance from districts that made recent purchases. Through the process, we came up with four solid programs other similar districts were using, and then we asked those companies to send us samples.”

The original intent was to have all the teachers come and review the four programs that were being considered.

“We wanted to select a program that included components that supported successful instruction and learning to meet the core expectations,” stated Basinger, “However, the classroom at Wellington Elementary where the samples were housed was completely full of materials, and so it was decided that there was no way all the teachers could reasonably go through what was there.”

The principals and the instructional coaches went through the four sample programs with a developed rubric, and measured how well the programs met the needs of the district. After that process, it was narrowed down to the two best options. Those two programs were Pearson ReadyGen and McGraw-Hill Wonders.

“Wonders is a more traditional program that was formatted in the way teachers have been used to (short stories and multiple stories divided into weekly units),” said Basinger. “ReadyGen is a newer program and we referred to it as a ‘thinking out of the box’ program. It is a novel based program where instruction is stretched over several weeks using the same story.”

The month of March became a revolving door at Wellington Elementary as teachers across the district came and looked through the programs. They came time and time again until they looked reviewed the materials thoroughly.

“From the teacher feedback, we created a list of questions and concerns and sent it to both companies and asked them to address them,” explained Basinger. “The two companies presented their products in April, and we had at least two teachers from every school listen to their presentations. After the presentations, the teacher committee then voted for the program they thought was best for the district.”

Going into the presentations, the upper grades seemed to favor the Pearson ReadyGen program because the comprehension instruction seemed to be more complex. The younger grades seemed to favor the McGraw Hill Wonders program because it was strong in foundational skills. The presentations were informative, and both upper and lower grade teachers were enlightened to the overall strong components in each program. After the teacher committee voted, it was the McGraw Hill Wonders program that was chosen.

“Pearson ReadyGen is a newer product and after the presentation, the committee felt there were still some kinks in it,” stated Basinger. “In fact, some of what the program utilizes comes from the Scott Foresman Reading Street program that we already had. Teachers felt a new reading program should have updated materials. We wanted something the teachers wanted to use and they felt confident with. So, we made sure all the teacher materials for the new program were here by the end of May, and we had over 90 percent of the teachers attend a training on May 31 (with McGraw Hill representatives) to help us with understanding the implementation of the program. That meeting took place right after school was out because many teachers wanted time to think about it. Another implementation training occurred on August 1 for those that couldn’t attend in May.”

That one day of training for all teachers was just the beginning. During the two legislative days that teachers had for training before school started, additional collaboration and training to develop further understanding of the program outline and resources occurred.

“It’s important that everyone stays on board and uses it the same,” said Basinger. “We are doing a great job on collaboration in the district. I feel we are getting better at it all the time, and this dedicated time and effort is important. In addition to the legislative days training, every month, on the second Monday of the month, all the teachers are going to gather at Castle Heights Elementary during their planning time (2-4 p.m.), and they are going to plan instruction and assessment for the month ahead. It will provide teachers a venue to discuss concerns, share knowledge, and to improve our instructional skills.”

Through this effort, the district’s goal is rather than to just guide growth within the individual schools, to also develop and improve the entire district at once with good resources.

“The best thing about this whole process is that it is teacher driven and the results will be better because of that. Our goal is to provide the best instruction for our students and to get the best collaboration between everyone possible to improve our instruction,” concluded Basinger.

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