A principal’s perspective on intensive summer reading programs
Sandy Klaus is taking her school’s summer reading program to the next level.
Klaus, the principal of Starmont Elementary School in Arlington, is looking at everything from the length and consistency of the classes to their alignment with instruction during the school year.
“We are a lot more focused,” Klaus said.
The new focus is driven by a desire to make sure all students are reading at grade level. It’s also good preparation for a legislative requirement that all Iowa schools have intensive summer reading programs in place for struggling third-graders by May 2017.
The summer reading requirement is part of Iowa’s early literacy progression law, which aims to ensure all students reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade. Research shows reading proficiency by the end of third grade is an important predictor of school success, and early intervention for struggling readers is critical.
Starmont’s summer reading program covers students in kindergarten through fifth grade, which is more than the law requires by 2017. Klaus said the expanded program reflects best practices in early literacy.
For those students who are identified as needing extra support based on their Iowa Assessments scores, parents are notified and encouraged to enroll their children in summer school.
Starmont’s summer program, which runs four weeks in June and two in August, uses the state’s early warning system for literacy to help schools identify and intervene with students who are struggling to read. It also relies heavily on research reviewed by the Iowa Reading Research Center, or IRRC, an Iowa Department of Education program created by Iowa legislators as part of the state’s early literacy initiative.
Starmont uses a variety of whole group, small group and individualized instruction as supported by the IRRC.
“We feel like we are making progress because of the research through the IRRC and DE,” Klaus said. “That really helps us. Their work ensures that every single school doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Klaus serves on a state task team that is working with the IRRC and a national expert to develop criteria for intensive summer reading programs in schools statewide. A recent study commissioned by the IRRC showed a lack of consistency statewide in optional summer reading programs currently offered by school districts and community organizations.
Klaus says it’s important to implement summer reading programs with fidelity. “In other words, follow the program research in terms of group size, number of weeks, number of minutes per day, and for the intended age group,” she said. “If the program isn’t implemented with fidelity, children will not make the growth that the research says they will make.”
The Starmont program goes something like this: Students eat breakfast, receive intensive literacy instruction, break for personal enhancements such as dance or aerobics, back to intensive instruction, break for another personal enhancement, eat lunch and head home. The personal enhancements, or clubs, as Klaus calls them, are replaced with additional intensive literacy instruction for students who need it.
The Starmont teachers have been immersed in building the summer program through formal professional development, as well as informal professional learning communities.
“We have been focusing on writing because there is a clear connection between writing and reading,” Klaus said. “We know that if kids are good readers, there is a greater chance of them being good writers. And if they are good writers, they will be good readers.”
And hearing good literature can inspire children.
“If children are listening to a good book, kids will listen to the descriptors in the text,” she said. “They are able to look at the author’s craft, and then are able to imitate it in their own writing, which improves reading.”
Julie Henke of Strawberry Point sent her two children, ages 11 and 8, to Starmont’s intensive summer reading program this year. She has been impressed by the results.
“My son, in particular, was behind – one of the lowest in his class,” Henke said. “It really upset him. He would say that everyone was smarter than he was.
“Between the school year and this summer program, they were able to work one-on-one with him. They helped him find books that interest him. He reads now and enjoys it. He’s at grade-level proficiency today and he is one of the top in his class now. And his confidence level is high.”
Success experienced by Henke’s family is connected to strong collaboration among teachers, Klaus said.
“We are trying to get commonality in our instruction so that kids don’t come out of one classroom with one set of knowledge and another class comes out with a different set of knowledge,” Klaus said. “It is so important to have the base knowledge. That’s what K-through-3 reading is about – those foundational skills as per the Iowa Core.”
In the next two years, Starmont Elementary will continue to identify intervention programs that are both research-based and effective.
“We also are going to ensure that our summer school program is aligned with what happens in the school year,” Klaus said. “We are going to take a look at the amount of time spent on intensive reading – is that sufficient? Should we increase the length?”
The program is not without its challenges. One challenge is making sure all students who need the summer program are completing it. Klaus said there are various reasons why parents don’t enroll their children, including the perception there’s no room for schoolwork in the summer months.
Transportation is another challenge. The Starmont Community School District doesn’t have funding to run full bus service in the summer, so buses are dispatched to one gathering point in each of the district’s three towns – Arlington, Strawberry Point, and Lamont – to collect students.
“Often we have both parents working who simply cannot get their children to the individual pick-up sites,” she said.
Klaus sees her program as a work in progress, in which everything deserves a close look, including interventions, assessments, progress monitoring and curriculum.
Starmont’s summer program is the culmination of several years of preparation. So if an Iowa school has not started putting together a solid plan for an intensive summer reading program, Klaus says the time is now.
“One of the things that is really important is that administrators need to understand the law,” she said. “And then they need to rely on the IRRC for understanding the ‘why’ of a summer program. If you truly understand the nature of a summer program, it will put you in a better position to create your own program.”
- Communicate to parents. Make sure your teachers are talking to parents during their conferences. Put information in the school and district newsletters. Try to attract interest from the local media. The early literacy progression law will affect students who were first-graders during the 2014-15 school year. Parents need to know now how it could affect their children. It needs to come from the school district, not just the state because of the relationship between local schools and the parents.
- Principals need to start planning now and getting familiar with the Iowa Reading Research Center.
- Questions that schools must ask: How long will they will offer the classes? What curriculum are they going to use? What interventions will be used? How will they conduct assessments? They need to think about transportation. They really need to be thinking about professional development for the teachers. The teachers cannot succeed without proper training.
- Administrators, teachers and parents need to review the IRRC website: www.iowareadingresearch.org