Evelina began school in 2008 and she struggled in a variety of areas throughout the primary years including attention, expressive language, articulation, decoding, spelling, phonological awareness, and problem solving. In grade 2 she was referred to speech and language for articulation concerns, which were impacting her reading decoding. At the end of her grade 3 year, Evelina was significantly behind what was expected for her grade level. She was referred for a psychological assessment due to slow academic progress in reading and spelling. Her cognitive abilities were found to be in the High Average range however it was felt that as academic demands increased, Evelina’s weaknesses in phonics and word reading would begin to more significantly impact her skills in writing.
Her High Average intelligence and significant academic delays in the areas of word decoding and word reading resulted in the diagnosis of a Specific Learning Disability in the area of reading. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) would be developed.
At the beginning of her grade 4 year, Jane Empey joined the staff at Osprey Woods Public School in Mississauga as an ISSP teacher in School Support. During a team meeting with the special education support staff, it was mentioned that Evelina might be a good candidate for the provincial school for children with significant learning disabilities in reading.
Having conducted a running record with Evelina, Jane noted that although the number of errors might indicate an instructional reading level, decoding errors with text specific vocabulary meant meaning was lost. Evelina was not monitoring herself for meaning and had significant difficulty answering questions about the text.
Empey had been part of piloting the Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention Green System (LLI) as an Early Literacy Teacher at the Board level during the past five years. She knew that the books were engaging fiction and non-fiction stories that taught phonics and writing in context. With support from the Literacy Coordinator at the Board, the Red system was purchased for the school and Evelina became part of a small group who had daily reading instruction using the Red LLI books.
Evelina began at Level L, which was lower than her reading assessment indicated in order to build on some of the phonics and word work that she required. At one point during the year, following some word work, she commented, “Why did no one ever teach us this before?” She also loved the fluency passages which allowed for her dramatic flair. Evelina’s reading became more fluent and accurate which led her to comprehend what she was reading. She continued to read in the small group for the rest of the year. In June, her reading was instructional level 28 and she was demitted from the program.
Evelina had developed a real love of reading.
In her grade 5 year, Evelina was upset that she no longer got to be part of the reading group as she loved the books. By this time, the school also had the Gold system and Jane met with Evelina 2–3 times a week after school “just to read.” Evelina had developed a real love of reading.
Now in grade 7, Evelina no longer requires support. She visited Osprey Woods last year and her mother informed Jane that her present school would like to remove her IEP. Evelina is an avid reader at home and she currently is reading the Twilight series.
A high percentage of students in the Palliser Regional Schools district in Alberta are English Language Learners. In fact, twenty of the district’s schools are essentially ELL schools. This tremendously diverse district includes Low German Mennonite schools, Hutterian schools, community schools and faith-based alternative schools.
Understanding that students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers, Palliser leaders are focused on literacy growth in their schools.
In fact, Cynthia Gietz, Director of Learning for Palliser Regional Schools says district leaders and staff are currently working to have 95 per cent of grade three students reading at grade level by March 2019. Pearson’s Levelled Literacy Intervention system is part of their plan to achieve this goal.
"This is outstanding data."
Additional data that followed a cohort of students from grade 1 to grade 3 shows similar growth. “When this class was in grade one, only 56 per cent were at grade level; that grew to 70 per cent in grade two and 76 per cent in grade three,” reports Gietz. “This is outstanding data.”
At the individual school level, teachers and principals are also reporting impressive reading gains for students. Fred Jack is principal of both Barons School and Carmangay Outreach, which serve a population of 100 per cent Low German Mennonite students.
He says, “Currently, thirty per cent of the students in our school are utilizing LLI. Last year LLI was in part responsible for moving 23 students from reading below reading level to at-level.”
Barons School teacher, Jaden Cullen, for example used LLI to work with a grade-three student with special needs who began the year reading at level A and ended the year reading at level G. “She’s now in grade four and continues to excel. I think a large part of her success was me taking that time every day to work with her one-on-one or in a very small group with the LLI program,” explains Cullen.
Results from another Palliser school are equally impressive. Shari Rogerson, Principal of Dorothy Dalgliesh School says 14 per cent of the 175 students in her school participate in LLI. Of these students, 30 per cent are ELL and 26 per cent are special education students.
During the 2015/2016 school year Rogerson says the LLI system helped 23 grade two to grade four students increase their reading levels between three and ten levels.
"This student looked forward to the one-on-one reading time and working with the LLI system"
Grade-four teacher, Jodi Gurr says one of the students she worked with had behavioral issues and struggled academically – but, she explains, this student also had great success with LLI. “This student looked forward to the one-on-one reading time and working with the LLI system. She could see that she was successful and it not only affected her reading but her attitude about life in general, I think. She saw herself as a successful reader.”
While this student wasn’t reading at grade level at the end of the year, Gurr says that’s not always a realistic goal. “She began the year reading at level D and by the end of the year was reading at Level H/I. Her progression was something she was very proud of. I think that was directly related to LLI because it was a program that allowed her to be successful. “
Carol Gibson, who teaches grade two at Dorothy Dalgliesh, shares a similar example. She says all three of the students in her class who used the LLI system in 2015 increased their reading levels thanks to the combination of LLI and her teaching support.
"His reading grew by leaps and bounds"
“One of my students was a total non-reader – level A was difficult for him. But by the end of the year he was reading at level G/H. I was very happy. His reading grew by leaps and bounds.”
With plenty of success to report, leaders at Palliser School District continue to roll out the LLI system to struggling students and support growth in student literacy.
Watch for a full case study about Palliser ISD’s experience with LLI to come this winter.