Educators across the nation face the enormous challenge of dealing with low literacy rates among students entering their freshman year of high school. Recent national studies have shown that 29% of students start the ninth grade with reading and math proficiency levels two or more years below grade level (National Assessment of Education Progress 2005). Illinois students fall slightly below those national averages — on the 2008 ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test), 31% of Illinois 8th grade students failed to meet expectations in reading and 32% failed to meet expectations in math. These students are at a high risk of drop-out before graduation.
With many possible ways to intervene, how many administrators out there would consider NOT ordering new text books? Probably not many — but that’s just what Altamont Superintendent Jeff Fritchtnitch decided to do.
Jeff Fritchtnitch, Superintendent
In March of 2008, the Altamont School District invested in the AutoSkill program for their students in grades 3-8. Administrators and educators were trained and students began working with the Academy of READING and Academy of MATH software. Before long, word got out about the amazing results students were achieving.
“How does something like (AutoSkill) have such a huge impact in such a short time?” asks Superintendent Jeff Fritchtnitch. “Our teachers are turning somersaults; they’re so excited with the progress we’ve made.”
The award-winning Academy of READING helps at-risk students build fluency in reading foundation skills in five core areas defined by the National Reading Panel, while the Academy of MATH develops computational fluency in math foundation skills in ten areas that align to NCTM standards.
Soon, the high school teachers asked the principal if they could let their high-risk students try working with the AutoSkill program too. So the Altamont 9th-12th graders walked or rode the bus two blocks over to the grade school building to get started with AutoSkill.
In just a six- to eight-week period working with AutoSkill, Altamont saw a one- to two- year growth in their high school students and a half-year of progress in their grade school students.
“We are seeing significant growth patterns with our at-risk students, while our middle-of-the-road students are also turned on to AutoSkill,” says Fritchtnitch. “Students are telling us that they really like the program, especially the awards — they make them feel like they’ve accomplished something.”
Based on extensive research and proven in thousands of elementary, middle and high schools across the country, the award-winning Academy of Reading delivers a powerful intervention software solution that helps at-risk students achieve rapid, permanent gains in reading. The methodology incorporates instructional and behavioral principles to address skills development and learner motivation.
“For youth today, technology is their life. They get the same things out of AutoSkill that they get from being on the computer at home,” says Fritchtnitch. “It drives success and fosters what kids enjoy doing. It gives them that “atta boy’ or ‘atta girl’ feeling.”
AutoSkill delivers an adaptive, individualized training experience for each student. The program uses a patented methodology with an adaptive intervention engine and motivational principles to help students build confidence and fluency in the foundation skills of reading and math.
By the end of the 2008 spring term, it was clear to Fritchtnitch that the Altamont district would greatly benefit from continued and expanded use of AutoSkill.
“My training says think about budget,” Fritchtnitch adds. “So I talked with our local Education Technology Partners representative and we found a way to make it happen in both buildings (grade school and high school) at a reasonable rate. But in order to facilitate a program like this, the money has to come from somewhere.”
While many school districts struggle to finance the latest educational technology, Altamont found that with the affordability of AutoSkill and support of their school board, they could make great strides in the enhancement of their educational tools.
As part of a July goal-setting meeting, the Altamont Board of Education placed great importance on the inclusion of technology for learning — not to replace teachers, but to provide a tool for students and teachers to succeed. Based on this goal, Fritchtnitch decided to purchase an expanded version of AutoSkill, instead of the new text books they had budgeted for.
“So I thought, the Board will be OK with this,” says Fritchtnitch. “We need to make this transition and use technology to benefit the students. It was definitely outside the box to purchase the Academy of READING and MATH instead of new text books.”
Fritchtnitch plans on using AutoSkill as an opportunity to enhance education. By combining it with teacher knowledge and the text book component, he expects that AutoSkill will be a tool to reach students in a different way.
AutoSkill intervention solutions deliver rapid, permanent gains to help at-risk students progress in their education and administrators meet AYP targets. It features interactive progress monitoring graphs, school- and district-level progress reports, as well as student case management tools.
“We look forward to catching these students up so that we can also see the results when standardized testing season comes around,” says Fritchtnitch. “Whether it is IOWA, ITBS, ISAT, Prairie State Achievement — with the help of AutoSkill, our students will be ready.”
Many districts are adopting the Response to Intervention (RtI) framework to improve instruction and accelerate academic achievement for struggling students. With resource-intensive assessment, progress monitoring, and documentation requirements, educators need scalable, comprehensive and efficient methods to close the achievement gap.
“The program monitoring tools are another great benefit to AutoSkill. We use the data to monitor growth/setbacks and other variables to learning,” says Fritchtnitch. “We are able to pull out the variables and measure so that we can identify student needs and modify our approach. It makes teaching great!”
Detailed views of student progress enable formative instruction and allow teachers to track students as they work through the program, alerting them to trouble spots, “teacher time” flags, and how much time is being spent on each task.
“I can’t give enough praise to the AutoSkill program. I’ve seen the data, teachers are now able to reach out in a new way, and it creates one of those ‘Aha!’ moments for students,” says Fritchtnitch. By incorporating AutoSkill, we have provided the best set of tools for these students to achieve success in the classroom.”