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Articles in Word Study Team and Literacy Updates

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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Teaching & Learning Committee meets with Word Study Team

The Word Study Team met with the Board Teaching & Learning Committee Sept. 13. Teachers on Special Assignment Erin Miller and Mary Morton told the committee the timeline being considered for the Word Study plan now includes piloting the materials and ensuring instructional strategies are in place for meeting students’ needs and providing professional development for teachers. The goal is to move the plan forward with integrity and fidelity.

Ms. Miller and Ms. Morton summarized the Word Study Team meeting held Aug. 29, in which the team continued building its understanding of the rubric that will be used to evaluate the instructional materials being considered for core/Tier 1 instruction for phonics and phonemic awareness. The team worked on ways to ensure inter-rater reliability during the evaluation process and discussed the cornerstones of the pilot. The team is exploring possibilities for collecting data and input from pilot teachers, the community and the rubric.

The Teaching & Learning Committee asked for a written update that can be shared with the entire Board in the near future.

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Aug. 29- Board Committee learns more about Word Study Team’s work

The School Board’s Teaching & Learning Committee (TLC)met with Teachers on Special Assignment Erin Miller and Mary Morton to get an update and learn more about the work of the Preschool through Grade 2 Word Study Team.

Ms. Morton and Ms. Miller explained how the Team evaluated various rubrics before deciding on the rubric to use for materials evaluation.

Based on District needs the Word Study Team had identified, the Florida Reading Research Center rubric, with the addition of a scoring guide developed by the state of Indiana, was selected as the best match. Ms. Morton and Ms. Miller said the Team is considering recommendations from Dr. Deborah Reed from the Iowa Reading Research Institute as it finalizes the rubric.

TLC members discussed how to proceed with the plan, including the possibility adjusting it to include a pilot study.

Vice President Tim Rasmussen asked the Team to report back on timelines and interim instructional strategies for meeting students’ needs and providing professional development for teachers. The goal is to move the plan forward with integrity and fidelity.

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Aug. 12 – Focus on the impact of teaching

As mentioned on the July 16 blog post, members of the Curriculum & Instruction Team, along with board members from the Teaching & Learning Committee, attended the Visible Learning for Literacy Institute in Washington DC. The key element of the Institute was Fisher & Frey’s classroom application of John Hattie’s synthesis of meta-analyses to determine what works best in the classroom.

The day was built around the book, Visible Learning for Literacy (2016), which was a collaborative effort between Hattie, Fisher, and Frey.

Hattie started the day making the point that, “We work in a profession where everything works. The problem is that it almost de-professionalized us.” Instead, he encouraged educators to stop asking what works, and start asking what works best.

Hattie also told the audience to “move the debate away from how we teach,  to the impact of your teaching. Know your impact: collective teacher efficacy—all teachers focused on impact.”

Based on Hattie’s research, Fisher & Frey spent a good deal of the day sharing specific high-yield strategies. Those included vocabulary strategies, modeling word solving and comprehension, close reading, to mention a few. The right approach, at the right time, for the right type of learning was the bottom line.

Hattie finished by challenging us to, “know thy impact”. This is the final chapter in the Visible Learning for Literacy book, which will become a key area for study and application among the C&I Team this year. Our goal will be to determine the application on a wider basis in the District.

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July 22- Update on Visible Learning for Literacy Institute

Members of the Curriculum & Instruction Team, along with board members from the Teaching & Learning Committee, attended the Visible Learning for Literacy Institute on July 13, 2016. The focuses of the Institute included:

  • Understanding the three phases of learning and the unique importance of each:
    • surface,
    • deep,
    • transfer
  • Learning which literacy practices have the greatest impact on student growth (and which have the least) and how to implement high impact practices at the right phase in a student’s learning
  • Developing a plan for measuring one’s impact on literacy learning.

The foundation of the Institute was based on Hattie’s 2009 synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses.

“Nearly all the things teachers do work when we ask what improves student achievement. But only a few things work at ensuring that students gain a full year’s worth of growth for a year of enrollment in school, and we think it’s time we focused on what works, what doesn’t work, and what can’t hurt.” (Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Hattie, J. (2016). Visible Learning for Literacy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.)

The attendees continue to dig into the research presented to determine impact and implementation in the Ames schools, including sharing our learning with others, including the Word Study Team.

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July 16, 2016 – Brief Update

Members of the Curriculum & Instruction Team, along with board members from the Teaching & Learning Committee, attended the Visible Learning for Literacy Institute in Washington DC this week. A summary will be posted in next week’s blog.

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July 7, 2016- Curriculum leaders meet with Iowa Reading Research Center directors

IRRC-LogoAmes curriculum leaders met with Dr. Deborah Reed, Director, and Dr. Sandy Schmitz, Assistant Director of the Iowa Reading Research Center, on June 23, 2016, to seek input relative to the work of the Word Study Team. Topics covered included the gap analysis done by the Word Study Team and the need for clearly articulated scope and sequence, as identified by the Word Study Team, including phonological awareness, phonics, and spelling.

We also discussed the importance of a clear sequence of systematic lessons that build from easier to more difficult skills in a purposeful and explicit manner. This needs to include diagnostic information so teachers can identify a student’s areas of need and adjust instruction accordingly. Dr. Reed has shared a rubric to assist in review of support materials.

We are also seeking input from the Iowa Department of Education, as they may have a rubric for reviewing support materials. (At this time, they’ve shared a rubric for intervention materials, which has some elements that may be useful.)

Dr. Reed also shared some resources regarding small group instruction and use of the 90-minute reading block, to be shared with the Word Study Team this fall.

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