Fort Smith Schools summer reading camp delivers reading gains for struggling students

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 174 views 

Fort Smith Public Schools (FSPS) launched a pilot program over the summer to target reading deficiencies in students from grades 5-7. The district extended 40 invitations and received 34 enrollees. Ultimately, 31 in grades 5-7 graduated from the program (over 91%) with a 100% success rate.

The mission: take students who scored in the 25th percentile or lower on the 2016-2017 ACT Aspire Summative Assessment and bring up their reading scores one full grade level during the course of a month. Martin Mahan, the program administrator and FSPS assistant superintendent of human resources and campus support, told school board members at a Monday (Sept. 10) work session the goal “was accomplished with most participants making multiple grade-level gains.”

The average age of the students ranged from 11.7-12 years old. Teachers spent more than 60 hours of instruction and rotated through four 50-minute sessions per day. The feat was accomplished, in part, by harnessing the student’s grasp of sight words and other reading visualization strategies.

“This program teaches these kids how to create images while they’re reading,” said Cathey Ford, interventionist and dyslexia coordinator for the district. “It starts out very simply with just a picture. Then it goes to a sentence. And then it goes to two sentences and then it goes to paragraphs and multiple paragraphs. The students are creating these images, and by the end, they’re able to retell what they’ve read, and they can answer the questions from the images they’ve created.”

According to Kellie Cohen, the FSPS director of student achievement and accountability, “These are foundational skills that students will build upon to transition into content areas — into eighth-grade science, eighth-grade social studies. It’s just to build a foundation so they can more easily access the content.”

Students were given a “pre-test” and a “re-test” to gauge progress in areas of comprehension focus and decoding focus. Using the pilot program’s strategy, students were able to improve in every category and each area’s 10 subcategories. Examples included a jump to the 32nd percentile from the 10th for comprehension, to the 21st from the 12th in vocabulary, and to the 27th from the 13th in fluency.

Participants were selected by principals from Sunnymede, Sutton, Morrison, Trusty, Howard, Pike, and Tilles elementary schools as well as Darby and Kimmons Junior High Schools. The camp was held Monday-Friday at Spradling Elementary during June from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Total cost per student was $1,200, though Cohen advised those costs included some expenditures that would not be present during the school year, such as “a facilitator who’s not on contract for a couple of those weeks and the building principal who wouldn’t be on contract.”

Also, the district provided Kindles to each of the 31 graduates upon completion. The district already uses the summer reading camp methods in grades K-2 and with interventionists and special education teachers in grades 3-12. The district is trying to secure grant funds to replicate the summer program for the summer of 2019 as well as a pilot at Darby during the 2019-2020 school year. The goal is to provide support and intervention for the younger grade levels and to provide “point-in-time remediation” for students struggling beyond K-2, Cohen said.

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