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Articles in Teaching and Learning Updates

March 24, 2017- Update on third rotation and community feedback

The third rotation of the word study pilot began on Tuesday, March 22nd. The Word Study Team met and scored the materials they used during the second rotation and received materials for their last rotation. They will teach with these materials through May 9th. We will meet again as a team for the final rubric scoring on Tuesday, May 15th. At that point, we will be waiting to set another meeting until we can get all of the data back from the Iowa Reading Research Center, including student scores from the assessments and fidelity checks. We will keep everyone updated as the timeline develops, but we do not have a firm date yet. We anticipate that we will have all of the data back in late May.

We have had some requests for clarification about how the community feedback forms will be used in the final decision.  We are collecting both quantitative and qualitative data throughout the pilot. The quantitative data (student assessment data, rubric scores, teacher survey, admin survey, and survey from parents of pilot students) are broken down by specific percentages (here’s a link to the earlier post with those numbers). The qualitative data, including the community feedback comments, teacher comments, and administrator comments will also be read and considered by the administrative team. While we are hoping the quantitative data will paint a very clear picture, we may need to rely more heavily on the qualitative data should that not be the case.

Thanks for continued support during this process!

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Give feedback on Literacy Pilot materials


Materials on display through March 27

Now is your chance to peruse teacher and student resources and hands-on learning accessories for the three sets of Foundational Skills Materials being reviewed for the Kindergarten – Grade 2 literacy pilot. The materials are on display in the lobby of our District Offices, 2005 24th St. during our office hours from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 

Open House from 5 – 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 27

Teachers on Special Assignment Erin Miller and Mary Morton will be on hand  to answer questions before the regular school board meeting on March 27.

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Here’s a link to a site providing more information on the materials review and the materials.

Here’s the link to the online feedback survey.

Use these hashtags on Social Media #AmesWST #AmesCSD

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March 3, 2017- Inviting Public Input

We’re inviting the community to learn more about the Kindergarten – Grade 2 literacy pilot materials and give us feedback. In this video, Associate Superintendent Mandy Ross summarizes reasons new materials are being piloted. Board member Tim Rasmussen and Board Vice President Alisa Frandsen, who are members of the Teaching & Learning Committee, invite the public to come to an input session prior to the March 27 regular Board meeting, and to visit displays of the materials at Parent-Teacher Conferences March 6 – 9. 

Here’s a link to a site providing more information on the materials review and the materials.

Here’s the link to the online feedback survey.

Use these hashtags on Social Media #AmesWST #AmesCSD

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Word Study Team discusses second cycle of pilot materials

The Word Study Team met with the Teaching & Learning Committee on Jan. 25, 2017.  Dan Andrews, Mary Morton and Erin Miller led the discussion.

Morton reviewed the literacy pilot timeline. The second cycle of materials piloting has rolled out and went smoother than the initial rollout. Teachers expressed feeling much better about the process. Upon completion of the first round of pilot materials, each teacher independently completed the scoring rubric to reflect on their experiences with that set of materials. Then, teacher teams did a collaborative scoring on the rubric, which allowed them to have further discussion about the materials. There was also discussion about how to gain community feedback on materials. Final details are in the works at this time, including the possibility of addressing each PTO ahead of conference week, where the materials could be available for preview by parents/guardians.

Morton and Miller presented details of the Northwood pilot, which focuses on phonemic awareness and oral language. Three programs were reviewed against a hybrid rubric that was based on work from the Florida Reading Research Center and Virginia’s Preschool Rubric for Curriculum Review.  The team decided to pilot Language and Literacy (from the Handwriting Without Tears company) for purchase for the 2017-18 school year.

The 3-5 Word Study Team will be postponed until next fall. This will allow the K-2 work to inform the 3-5 work.

The Committee will consider having representatives provide a parent presentation in the evening on March 21 and having materials in buildings during conference week for parent review. The Committee also discussed the merits of providing a Teaching & Learning Committee overview.

Andrews asked if a Teacher confidence survey could be conducted again for Professional Development planning purposes.

The Committee discussed the Parent Reading Camp for struggling readers, including what parents should be looking for in terms with spelling and writing, for example, and finding decodable books.

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Update on pilot of literacy materials

Finishing first round of piloting materials

We are finishing our first wave of the K-2 Word Study Team Foundational Skills Materials Pilot. As pilot teachers finish their first round of piloting materials, their students will have been given a short assessment to check for learning growth. In January, teams of teachers, administrators, coaches, and TOSAs will collaboratively score their assigned materials using the rubric adapted from the Florida Center for Reading Research. Teachers, administrators, coaches, and TOSAs will also complete a survey to reflect on their experiences with their first set of materials.

The next round of materials will be distributed after winter break. Teachers will have a short training with someone from the company that publishes each of the pilot materials. Then, as was the case during the first round, Curriculum Department staff will provide weekly support opportunities for all pilot teachers.

Clarifying the pilot recommitment process

The Curriculum Department staff, along with Dr. Deborah Reed, as well as board members Tim Rasmussen and Alisa Frandsen who serve on the Board’s Teaching & Learning Committee, met with Fellows parents at the request of their PTO co-presidents. One of the questions raised was whether there was a way for students or teachers to opt-out of the pilot. At the time of the meeting, there was not a plan for opting out.

After hearing questions and concerns from those in attendance, Curriculum Department staff met to generate ideas based on what they heard. Teaching & Learning Committee members were also included in this meeting since they were at the Fellows parent meeting. The question about opting out was discussed at length. The group discussed having each building recommit to the pilot process; if the building chose not to recommit, their data would be excluded and they opted out of the decision-making process.

The recommendation was that this discussion be moved to the elementary principals’ meeting on December 1 for further discussion. At that meeting, the four elementary principals who attended agreed to recommit to the pilot by 4 p.m. on Monday, December 5. The timeline was necessary to be able to communicate with the Iowa Reading Research Center as collaborators in the data collection process. A member of the Curriculum Department reached out to the principal who was absent from the meeting, to ensure all buildings had accurate information about the recommitment.

Four out of the five elementary buildings recommitted to the pilot process. However, late morning on December 5, Fellows elected not to recommit to the pilot. While this is unfortunate in terms of a District-wide pilot that engages the voices of teachers from each of our schools, we are confident that the extensive data collection being done with the support of the Iowa Reading Research Center will help the District make a student-centered decision based on the experiences of the pilot teachers and the rest of the team involved in this pilot.

The Ames Community School District has routinely used pilots when choosing curriculum materials for nearly 30 years. The pilot process allows teachers to use instructional materials to determine whether or not they are the best choice for Ames students. Piloting of instructional materials is common practice in the educational landscape. However, this particular pilot has had unprecedented attention. For that reason, we sought the assistance and expertise of the Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC) at the request of a small group of parents. The IRRC has been an amazing partner in helping us refine our pilot design and collecting data to make well-informed decisions at the pilot’s conclusions.

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K-2 Literacy Pilot Frequently Asked Questions

How were the materials selected for the K-2 Literacy Pilot?

Last January, the K-2 Word Study Team identified a gap in the District’s literacy program in the areas of phonemic awareness and phonics. Phonemic awareness and phonics are foundational skills that comprise a small part of the Literacy Block, a 90-minute allotment of time devoted to teaching all literacy skills, including comprehension.

The pilot  was not intended to address a comprehensive literacy program; rather, the materials selected will help provide common language and a consistent scope and sequence to our phonemic awareness and phonics instruction across the District.

To select materials to address the foundational skills, the Word Study Team (WST) members took a survey to narrow down programs that appeared to align with foundational skills from 15 programs to six. The next step was for the WST to vet the programs in order to have three or four programs to pilot to fit the number of programs that would be piloted. The process used two sections, Phonemic Awareness and Phonics, from the Florida Reading Research Center’s (FRRC) rubric.

The WST worked collaboratively to conduct this initial vetting. Each WST member was part of a team tasked with scoring three out of the six programs. At the end of the scoring, every program had been evaluated using the indicators on the rubric.

After all of the scores were averaged and shared, the group negotiated around piloting the highest scoring programs. After discussion, the WST engaged in a Fist-to-Five process where all members indicated their support  of the decision by submitting a score of two or higher. The proposal that the WST reached consensus on included 1) three programs would be more manageable to pilot than four programs, and 2) the top three programs would be piloted: Fountas & Pinnell Phonics Lessons, Fundations, and Reach into Phonics.

What support did the WST receive for implementing the pilot and collecting data?

After the programs were selected, a pilot schedule was created to help each member of the WST develop a deeper level of understanding for each set of materials. As the process unfolded, the Iowa Reading Research Center was able to support student data collection and teacher implementation.

How did each program score on the initial vetting rubric?

The District has received requests to see the results of the vetting data. We recognize that the process is important to understanding the data and how those data are best used in the process.

With a rank of 6th, PASS scored 28.2% of the possible points available by 3 of the 4 groups tasked with vetting it. It earned 70.11% of the possible points in Phonemic Awareness, but earned none of the points available for Phonics.

With a rank of 5th, Words Their Way scored 37.5% of the possible points by 3 of the 4 groups tasked with vetting it. This program may be still have appropriate uses in our District to meet the needs of our students, but will not be included in our pilot.

With a rank of 4th, Open Court scored 71.18% of the possible points by 4 of the 4 groups tasked with vetting it. Although it scored near the next highest program, Open Court was not included due to a lack of consensus on the quality of the program and the scope and sequence it contained.

The remaining programs were selected for the pilot: Fountas and Pinnell Phonics Lessons (71.30% by 3 of 4 groups), Reach into Phonics (80.09% by 3 of 4 groups), and Fundations, (88.89% by 2 of the 4 groups).


The only purpose of this data was to determine the top three programs, not to make any determination of rank beyond which programs were to be piloted. The rank of the top three programs will be determined by the entirety of the pilot process.

Moving forward, each of the pilot programs will be evaluated on the merits of the program, the impact they have on student achievement, and the opinions of our administrators, teachers, and parents, and each program has an equal chance to be adopted.

How will my child be successful in reading if s/he changes materials three times this year?

Because of the nature of the scope and sequence of these materials as vetted in the phonological awareness and phonics sections of the rubric, all of these programs follow a similar learning path through the year. Teachers will not re-teach units during each different rotation; rather, teachers will work with the support of the program representatives, TOSAs and instructional coaches to best determine where to enter into the new program in order to ensure continued student success.

Students who are already identified as needing more assistance in reading will continue to receive the support already in place. As teachers continually assess student learning, they will be providing ongoing support to each student to ensure growth. Additionally, teachers will continue to work through the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) process in order to identify and provide interventions for students who are in need in compliance with the Iowa Department of Education’s expectations.

How will the decision be made?

Because all WST members will be more familiar with each of these programs after the pilot, only the scores from the final evaluation will be used to make the decision. The scores from the initial (pre-pilot) evaluation will have served their purpose of narrowing down the number of programs for the pilot. After each rotation of the pilot, each team member will score his/her assigned program using a rubric for the phonics, phonological awareness, instructional design, and assessment sections. Once all teams have completed a rubric for each program, these new scores will be used in the final decision (see FAQ below regarding final decision weighting).

The data will be collected and analyzed, and the final decision will be based on the following weighted categories:

  • Rubric Scoring – 30%
    • 8 rubrics averaged together for each program
      • 2 per rotation from teams engaged with that set of materials  
      • 1 from Curriculum & Instruction for each program
      • 1 from the Iowa Reading Research Center for each program
  • Student Growth Data – 30%
  • Teacher/Coach Survey – 17.5%
    • 15 teachers (3 teachers from each building)
    • 5 instructional coaches (1 from each building)
  • Admin/TOSA Survey – 17.5%
    • 2 directors
    • 5 elementary principals
    • 4 TOSAs
  • Parent Survey 5%
    • This survey will include discussion questions about materials for students’ parents to discuss with them.

Why are you videotaping my child? How will that video be used?

Teachers are videotaping themselves using the materials in order to allow the Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC) to gather data on how teachers are implementing the instructional design of each pilot program. Students are not the focus of these recordings, and the IRRC will destroy the videos on conclusion of the pilot. Additionally, the primary source for the IRRC work will be an audio recorder that the teacher wears, which will also be destroyed at the end of the pilot. Video will only be examined to clarify or as a back-up.

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Iowa Reading Research Center’s Role in Literacy Pilot

The Ames Community School District (District) has launched a literacy pilot as part of our program evaluation in an effort to select materials to support Tier 1 instruction of foundational reading skills. Piloting of instructional materials as part of program evaluation before purchasing and implementing them District-wide has been in practice for over 30 years and is supported by Board Policy IF, Curriculum and Assessment Development.

Chapter 12 of Iowa Code requires that school boards have a process for assessing and improving curriculum and instruction. To comply, the District’s Board Policy IF states that curriculum evaluation, including evaluation of instructional materials, must include collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data to aid in understanding what students know and can do. In order to create a cohesive District program evaluation, pilot programs are always approved by the District, not at a building level.

Our District pilot program involves using three sets of vetted materials in classrooms in order to measure student growth and to better enable teachers and administrators to evaluate the instructional design of each program. At the end of the pilot, all data gathered will be used to select one set of materials to implement with all K-2 students during the 2017-2018 school year. Pilot programs for program evaluation are not considered to be research in the same way as someone working on their dissertation or thesis, for example. Rather, much like teachers using data to inform instruction for their students, the District is collecting data to determine which of these three research-based programs best meets the needs of all students in the area of K-2 foundational reading skills instruction.

Each of the three programs in this K-2 literacy pilot was selected by the Word Study Team because the programs aligned with the identified gap in our implementation of our Board-approved curriculum, the Iowa Common Core. These gaps were centered around the foundational skills standards including phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics. Several programs were vetted using a rubric adapted from the Center on Instruction’s reading materials evaluation rubric. The three programs selected scored above 50 points on our modified rubric that focuses only on the sections that pertain to our identified need.

At no time did the District shift to embark on a research study; rather, we are focused on collecting data from teachers and administrators as well as student growth data to select the best program to fit the identified needs. Numerous questions have been asked about the Iowa Reading Research Center’s (IRRC) role in this pilot, including whether the pilot is legal. The Ames Community School District requested the IRRC’s assistance with the pilot.

The IRRC is serving as the external evaluator for the District’s pilot of foundational skills instructional materials. The intent of the IRRC is to assist the District in selecting a set of materials to adopt, which is a part of the IRRC’s legislated purpose:

281—61.2(256) Purpose. The purpose of the center shall be to apply current research on literacy to provide for the development and dissemination of all of the following, although each of the following will not necessarily be of equal priority or immediacy:

1. Instructional strategies for prekindergarten through grade 12 to achieve literacy proficiency that includes reading, reading comprehension, and writing for all students.

Program evaluation of this sort does not meet the definition of human subjects research:

“Research” generally does not include operational activities such as defined practice activities in public health, medicine, psychology, and social work (e.g., routine outbreak investigations and disease monitoring) and studies for internal management purposes such as program evaluation, quality assurance, quality improvement, fiscal or program audits, marketing studies or contracted-for services.

To ensure proper interpretation of this provision, the IRRC submitted a Human Subjects Research Determination form to the University of Iowa’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB Chair reviewed the IRRC’s role and concluded it did not constitute human subjects research:

“I have reviewed the information submitted with your project titled 201609831 Evaluation of Phonics Curriculum Implementation in the Ames Community Schools.  I have determined that the project described in the application does not meet the regulatory definition of human subjects research and does not require review by the IRB, because the project is to assist a school district in choosing an instructional product and the methodology is not a systematic investigation.”

The IRRC is involved as an independent third party to protect against pre-existing bias in collecting and analyzing student and teacher data. The IRRC is able to support our collection of student data that will be sensitive enough to show growth in these foundational skills. All student test data will be de-identified. Additionally, the IRRC will assist us during our pilot with collecting data to identify which programs are best able to be delivered with fidelity. Fidelity data includes video and audio files that focus on the teacher’s implementation of the materials—not on the students in the class. Recordings are uploaded to the IRRC, and the District will never have access to them. The fidelity data cannot be used for evaluative purposes, and the results will be provided at the aggregate level and not the individual teacher level. This information for each program will help us in analyzing the student growth data.  Once the external evaluation is complete and the District has made the program selection, the recordings will be destroyed.

For these reasons, the District and IRRC are exempt from IRB oversight for the pilot activities as currently designed.

The District is appreciative of the support and collaboration provided by the Iowa Reading Research Center. We look forward to moving forward with a decision at the end of this pilot to implement the  materials that will best meet the needs of our students.

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Nov. 1 – Literacy Pilot launched

The Word Study Team met met Tuesday, Oct, 25 to hear the final details of the Literacy Pilot and to learn from literacy consultants for each of the three programs in order to begin using the first set of materials. 

We’ve bookmarked the details here:

Logistics– Dates of rotations, factoring students who move during a rotation, and considering teacher compensation. See also, Important Dates. 

Communication – where to find updates about the pilot and plans for surveying parents and community members

Classroom Instruction – how substitute teachers will manage during a teacher’s absence, and how the materials fit into the literacy block.

Assessment – details of types and duration of assessments conducted during the pilot and balancing the effect of natural student growth during the pilot.

Pilot evaluation – details for maintaining program integrity and a list of scoring factors that will help determine the final decision.

For more information, view the October 7 presentation to the School Board and the Word Study Team presentation from October 25. 

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Word Study Team announces materials chosen and pilot design

Associate Superintendent Dr. Mandy Ross and Teachers on Special Assignment Mary Morton and Erin Miller updated the Teaching & Learning Committee about the K-2 reading pilot, and presented it to the Ames Community School Board Monday, Oct. 10.They shared details of the pilot study of materials to address Tier 1* literacy instruction, along with details of the pilot study design.  

Key components of the pilot include:

Programs selected through the Word Study Team (WST) to address Tier 1 instruction:

  • Fountas & Pinnell Phonics Lessons: Letters, Words, and How They Work
  • Fundations: Wilson Language Basics for K-3
  • National Geographic Learning Reach into Phonics

The Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC), including its Executive Director, Dr. Deborah Reed, is providing assistance with pilot design and data collection.

Data to be used at the end of the pilot to finalize the program selection:

  • A rubric (designed by the Florida Reading Research Center and suggested by Dr. Reed) that is aligned with research and addresses phonological awareness, phonics, instructional design, and assessment
  • Surveys completed by all members of the Word Study Team
  • Student growth data (based on a tool provided by the IRRC)

Pilot design highlights:

  • One kindergarten, one first grade, and one second grade teacher on the WST in all five elementary schools will pilot each of the three programs.
  • IRRC will design a random selection process to determine which teacher will pilot which program and in what order.
  • Prior to starting each pilot rotation, teachers will receive training on the program they will be using.
  • Student data will be collected immediately after each pilot rotation.
  • IRRC will train proctors to assess students in a 1-to-1 setting.
  • All members of the WST have specific  roles in the pilot and in the District. This includes principals, teachers on special assignment, instructional coaches, and District Office administrators.
  • Opportunities for parent education about each of the programs and input will be announced later, but will likely occur sometime in March.

Teaching & Learning board members Alisa Frandsen and Tim Rasmussen will continue to keep representatives from each elementary school’s PTO or PTA apprised of changes and address their questions and concerns.They will hold meetings with these representatives as needed.

View the PowerPoint with additional details.

*Tier 1 instruction refers to instruction that designed to meet the needs all of the students in a classroom. Tiers 2 and 3 refer to instruction that follows Tier 1 instruction when a student or a small group of students needs additional learning support.

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