Learning to read is one of the first skills a student can master, and perhaps the most important. The sooner a student can read, the more they can learn, making reading comprehension a critical skill that students need to acquire in order to expand on their learning experiences.
While reading is a skill that can easily be mastered by some students, it can be a challenge for others. Many students struggle with learning to read and subsequent reading comprehension skills, and school districts are often met with the challenge of finding adequate resources that will help struggling students improve in reading and reading comprehension.
El Paso Independent School District (EPISD), located in El Paso, Texas, was met with this challenge and was looking for a solution that would significantly reduce the number of students critically behind in reading. After EPISD’s superintendent, Juan Cabrera, implemented a new policy of cooperation between different departments, the general and special education departments generated a pilot reading program that involved students using MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach (MVRC), an online reading program that utilizes innovative technology to improve reading skills quickly and efficiently.
The goal of the pilot reading program was to reduce the number of “critical” reading students who were two or more years below grade level. MVRC is aligned with state standards, and helps improve students’ reading skills by providing online instruction on phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, grammar for meaning, comprehension and fluency.
With the help of MVRC, the number of participating students in the critical category for reading dropped 40%, and the number reading at or above grade level more than quadrupled from 112 to 522 with average program use of 20 to 30 hours.
“Having a consistent program, MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach, for our principals and teachers to engage students in reading is important,” said Dr. Royce Avery, area superintendent of El Paso Independent School District in a previous interview. “We clearly saw that when kids used the program with fidelity they achieved results. The students are really enjoying seeing their progress and how fast they progress in reading with MindPlay.”
The pilot program involved 3,142 students who were either in general education at one of the 10 middle or high school campuses, or were in special education at one of over half of the District’s campuses. Participating students received online reading instruction three to five times a week, and teachers were able to monitor their students’ progress with Mindplay’s Universal Reading Screener.
“We have seen profound growth in reading since students started using MVRC this school year,” said Pam Howard, assistant superintendent of special education and special services, EPISD, in a previous interview. “The students are logging in on their own and are engaged. I haven’t seen a student it didn’t help improve in reading. The program’s positive, non-punitive combination of language acquisition and reading is exceptionally helpful to special education students.”
With ten percent of the District’s students in special education, EPISD needed a solution that was going to provide individualized instruction and allow for repetitious exercises. By using MVRC, special education students were able to work at their own pace and repeat lessons if needed.
According to Howard, special education students were able to stay focused longer using MVRC than when they participated in a project-based learning class.
“The reading fluency part of MVRC is better than anything else I have used, and the program never gets ‘mad’ at a struggling student,” said Mary Lou Parker, a dyslexia/special education teacher at Wiggs Middle School in a previous statement. “Students can immediately look at a report and see how much faster they could read a passage than the day before. The confidence level my students attained through working with a computer helped prepare them for the STAAR-A, the new accommodated version of the state test that must be taken on a computer.”
Along with improving special education students’ reading skills, the pilot reading program also aimed to prepare EPISD’s middle and high school students for college.
Austin High School reported a 41% drop in the number of critical students after using MVRC, and the number of students meeting grade level reading grew from 14 to 96. Furthermore, a 10th grade student at Austin High School was able to improve from a third grade reading level to a ninth grade reading level in just eight months. MVRC helped bring students up to the proper reading levels for their grade, keeping them on track for college.
With reading being one the most critical skills a student can learn, it is important schools find the right solution for its struggling students. Through individualized instruction and proper monitoring, Mindplay Virtual Reading Coach proved to be the right solution for students who were struggling with reading in El Paso Independent Schools.