Saturday, October 14, 2017

Reading Improvement Plans

For quite some time, the state of Michigan has been debating how to handle third grade reading proficiency. Any quick internet search would yield a wide array of research about how vastly important it is that students are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. There are studies that show that prisons are built based upon the reading achievement scores of 3rd and 4th graders. Anyone who teaches in a grade higher than third also knows how much more intensive reading becomes in the upper grades; students are asked to read and digest more complex and rigorous texts the older they are and if they aren't reading on grade level, this task becomes not only frustrating but can feel impossible for the student.

This is my 12th year in the classroom. I have had 4th grade six of those twelve years. I know how incredibly frustrating and disheartening I found it to be when these fourth grade students came to me reading at a kindergarten or first grade level. The text is so much more dense in 4th grade and students are asked to DO MORE with the text in 4th and 5th grade. It is really unfair to the students to be allowed to push on to the higher grades when they can't read and haven't had any intervention whatsoever. 

I don't know if this is true or not (I honestly haven't bothered to look into it to find out), but I was told that a year or so ago, one of the high schools in my district added a 9th grade reading class because so many of students were entering ninth grade scoring at a BR level on MAP. That means their lexile is so low that it couldn't give them a numerical score. BR stands for "beginning reader." In ninth grade! Personally, I find that to be criminal. No student should just be passed along through the years when it is so very obvious that they are not a proficient reader (we have been using MAP since 2009-2010 at least so no excuse to continue to let these kids move forward with no intervention and just passing them on).

That said, before I continue, let me just reiterate something I have said for many years. I am not like other people. I do not look at things the same way other people do. I think this has always been true, but it is especially true since earning National Board Certification and traveling around the country (and a little bit of the world) to see educational systems in other areas besides West Michigan. Now that I am almost finished with my doctorate in education, I definitely see myself on a different level than most of my colleagues. I do not mean this to sound like I think I am better than anyone else. Believe me, I am not. I have flaws, I am definitely not perfect and I still screw up. Sometimes I screw up pretty big. I am still working to improve every day and be the best teacher I can be for my students. The reason I consider myself on a different level is because put all of my experience together along with my vastly different perspective and you get a very different outlook than most of my colleagues have. (Again, let me be very clear, this is not a slight against anyone I have ever worked with. I have had the absolute joy and pleasure to work with some absolutely amazing educators who give the best of themselves to support students. Our perspectives are just very, very different and that is all I am saying.)

With all of this said, a final version of the third grade reading law was passed in October 2016 and that spells big changes for us this year. Here is a short overview article of the new law. Over the past two weeks, we have had Dibels Deep training, have administered the test with our students and have prepared to write our IRIPs (Individual Reading Improvement Plans). I have 26 students. 19 of them have to have an IRIP because they are below the 60th percentile on the MAP. I have colleagues who will be writing IRIPs for their entire class, which is pretty overwhelming to consider.

I have many friends across my district that I have met over the years, whether or not we have ever worked together. I have heard a lot of grumblings about the requirements and that they are stupid or how they will be gone in a year or two. I don't necessarily like having to do this extra paperwork, but I don't think this process is stupid. I think it should have been in place long ago. If you're worth your salt as a teacher, you are already doing this sort of documentation anyway because you need to be able to show where the student is performing in order to know how to instruct them in a way that will fill in those gaps.

I am blessed right now that I have a student teacher. She is almost in full control (one more week and she will be), so I have been assisting her but also quite honestly spending time working on analyzing my data and determining our next steps. I know not everyone has this luxury, but I would find the time to do it anyway after my teaching day if she wasn't there...but I can't teach my students well if I don't know what their deficits are. It is as simple as that.

I spent a lot of time looking at where each student who needs a plan is by comparing their Dibels Deep data with their MAP data with classroom assessment data to determine the group to put them in for intervention. I came out with 5 groups. Now I needed to rearrange my schedule to fit each group into my intervention rotation. This was going to be impossible because they are supposed to be seen 3 times per week for at least 15 minutes. With 5 groups, there was no way I would be able to do that with only 4 thirty minute intervention blocks during the week (my 5th day is taken up by a 2nd step intervention -- how our brains work, learning about empathy, etc-- with our social worker).

So I looked closely at my schedule and decided I needed 45 minutes for intervention rather than only 30 so I could rotate through my groups. I am planning these groups as if my student teacher won't be there (because let's be real, she won't be around forever). I do have an interventionist who comes in for two of my 30 minute blocks so I can also utilize her to ensure that all of the groups are seen three times per week. Because my student teacher was side-by-side with me as I planned this and walked her through my thinking process, she will sit side-by-side with the interventionist to teach her how to do the new intervention blocks next week when we begin.

I'm actually pretty excited about it, even though I know most of my peers probably aren't. This goes back to that differing perspective piece. I teach in small groups for most things because I know the kids need the 1 on 1 face to face time....and I adamantly disagree with having an intervention group have 8 kids in it, especially when those students all do not have the same need (for example, the reason I have five groups is because I have a group with only two students in it because they have a similar need, I also have a group of 5 because they share similar needs). While it all probably feels like it's a ton of extra work....we should be doing this work and documenting it anyway. This reading law just forces us ALL to be accountable and show that we are doing everything we can to help our students gain reading proficiency that they collectively haven't been gaining (less than half of the third graders in the state showed proficiency on our state testing in 2015-2016).

So while I'm not necessarily excited to spend hours of my own time writing up these plans...I will do it because I know once I have a path to guide every single one of my students on, we will all be better for it. I don't have to write IRIPs for my higher readers but I am still going to document and provide intervention for them so that they aren't just flying in the wind with no support either.


  1. Hello,
    Could you share some of the interventions you will use?

    1. Hi! I'm so sorry I missed this comment. All of my interventions are coming from Journeys, our reading program. We have a kit called the HMH Decoding Power Kit and it focuses on phonics and phonemic awareness and that is where I am pulling all of my interventions from.