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Belle Valley (IL) School District

/Academy Interventions

Download PDF version of this articleFour educators, two schools, one passion: helping students succeed at reading.

The Belle Valley School District in Belleville, Illinois, is comprised of two schools: a K-4 building (North Elementary) and a 5-8 building (South Middle School). While each building may have its own bricks and mortar, the two are connected by the common bond of quality education. Both schools are working hard to improve reading and math scores and both have implemented literacy intervention solutions from AutoSkill to do just that.

“Autoskill really was impressive to us because it was individualized and put the students on skills they may have been lacking. Overall, we have seen most students’ skills increase a level or two. And we are seeing the skills achieved carry-over into classroom reading”
Mary Lou Hass, Special Education Teacher

At Belle Valley North, Donna Dintelman has been teaching remedial reading for 12 years. Three days a week, she has all 80 of her students working on AutoSkill’s Academy of READING® for 30 minutes per session.

“In the beginning, I was hesitant of the Academy of READING because my teaching time was being taken away,” said Dintelman. “I didn’t like the fact that students were going to be spending so much time on the computer instead of direct instruction from their teacher.”

Dintelman says she has been pleasantly surprised by how remarkable the Academy of READING is working for her students.

“I simply can not provide the repetition needed for students to gain the skills this program can provide,” said Dintelman. “I can’t sit with each kid. The Academy of READING is so individual — that’s what sealed the deal for me.”

Along with Donna Dintelman, educator Mary Lou Haas recognizes the success AutoSkill has brought to Belle Valley.

“Our school was looking for a way to help out students who were on the bubble for ISATs (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) and needed an extra push to increase their skills,” said Haas. “Autoskill really was impressive to us because it was individualized and put the students on skills they may have been lacking.”

Academy of READING produce world-class gains in reading

The Academy of READING and Academy of MATH® combine assessment and individual instructional plans, together with continuous motivational techniques, to produce world-class gains in reading and math.

“The Academy of READING breaks reading down to the smallest phoneme. The students have to show mastery before they can move forward,” said Dintelman. “It gets progressively harder and turns it into an auditory skill, which is more difficult — ultimately students get past having to figure out each sound to figure out the words.”

“As a Special Ed teacher, I like the way the program is individualized to meet each child’s needs and it works at the pace of the child,” said Haas. “Overall, we have seen most students’ skills increase a level or two. And we are seeing the skills achieved carry-over into classroom reading.”

AutoSkill is committed to helping educators – teachers, principals and district administrators – help students establish the fundamental literacy skills and achieve permanent gains in both reading and math.

“A child shouldn’t have to figure out what a “T” says in order to read the word ‘Tom’”, said Dintelman. “And in order for a child to truly become a reader, they have to get past the decoder phase. It’s the automaticity that Academy of READING offers that is really improving the students’ skills.”

Automaticity refers to the theory that complex skills like reading can be broken down into a series of smaller subskills. Through practice, these subskills can then be learned to the point where student responses are both rapid and automatic. Best of all, because automatized learning is permanent, the skills that are mastered are mastered for life.

“Every time a child stops to review a word, they lose comprehension,” said Dintelman. In order for them to become automatic at decoding, this process is necessary, they find sets of letters — they are training their eyes to pick up different figures, and matching it to the pictures below.”

Age-appropriate content, interfaces and graphical elements create an optimal learning environment for students from K-12. A training stream is automatically assigned based on a placement test that provides a snapshot of each student’s reading abilities relative to their grade.

“The Academy of READING does not let them continue if they are doing poorly. They do a tutorial, then it’s ‘teacher time’ and I get involved,” said Dintelman. “I pull up the screen and see where they are having trouble. The real plus behind this is that none of the other kids know what level their peers are working on. And this takes away the fear of being dumb. They all work at their own pace and I’m right there to help.”

Literacy is about so much more than essential life skills. It’s about acquiring self-confidence. It’s about gaining access to life’s opportunities. AutoSkill is committed to helping students of all ages improve their literacy skills, through effective and research-based software solutions.

“This program is designed with motivation in mind — that’s one thing that our classroom teachers fall behind in,” said Dintelman. “So many of us are from old school thought — that children came ready to learn and wanted to learn. But we don’t see that as often as we used to. We need to provide motivation for them.”

The Academy of READING breaks skills down to simpler components and builds fluency for struggling readers. Developed from original research that’s proven to work, the software also provides students with positive feedback and motivational elements to boost confidence and self-esteem.

“When students come to my desk, I’ve already had a “heads up” that they are struggling,” said Dintelman. We go over the mistakes together because I can point out their problem.”

“I am very impressed with the results I am seeing and I love the way the kids are enthusiastic about the program,” Haas said. “We print out the certificates and let them keep them in a folder they decorated. We just keep motivating them to succeed.”

For Dintelman, the results are in. Her average gain is 1.3 grade levels in less than half a school year, and one fourth grade class showed a two year increase. And though they didn’t claim AutoSkill as their RTI intervention in 2008-09 school year, there is no doubt it will be in the future.

The RtI Packages for Academy of READING and Academy of MATH are powerful, automated solutions that build on scientifically-based reading and math interventions to provide web-based assessment, collaboration and data management tools — along with high quality professional services to make RtI work in schools.

At Belle Valley South, Principal Tammy Leib also brought in AutoSkill to intervene with struggling students. She wanted a program that was not only a diagnostic tool, but one that acted as a teaching resource as well.

“We were having a lot of struggling readers and we knew we needed something different to get through to them,” said Leib. “We saw that the nearby schools had experienced success with AutoSkill, so we did research and realized we wanted to give it a try.”

Leib wanted one person in charge of the intervention program and recruited one of her veteran educators, Barb Hoercher, to take the lead.

“After teaching fifth grade for 34 years and being very happy with it, I thought long and hard before deciding to take on this new challenge,” said Hoercher. “Ultimately, I accepted the new position because I am very passionate about doing as much as I can for students in reading and math.”

And that passion has led to a truly wonderful program at Belle Valley South.

“Every day I have a different schedule. I never take students from the same class during that week. I don’t want a child to miss any more than possible, because I don’t want to affect their grades,” said Hoercher. “I only pull from science, social studies, PE, music and computer. I don’t touch language arts or math.”

“Barb has done a fabulous job,” said Leib. “She makes this schedule up weekly, keeps a constant journal, sends email reminders, has conferences with teachers, etc. It’s because of her that we have the largest mid-year gains in Illinois.”

With a total of 139 students in the program, including 64 Special Education students, Hoercher’s coordination and implementation is unmatched. She never has more than ten students at a time. Each group comes in for 25 minutes sessions three times per week. And with that small time commitment, she’s seeing an average 2.2 grade level increase in her students.

“Basically she (Hoercher) leaves no cracks for students to fall into,” said Leib. That is why I chose Barb. She is go-getter, a veteran teacher who is not afraid to try anything. Even though she was really not a ‘computer person’, she was willing to try something new because she believes in teaching reading,” said Leib.

The AutoSkill software features an adaptive intervention engine that adjusts to student responses, accelerating training when mastery is demonstrated or reviewing concepts when needed. The short, intensive training sessions fit easily into class schedules and enable rapid skill development for students at any age or ability level.

“I’m very much in favor of this program,” said Hoercher. “I can definitely see and understand what the program is trying to teach the kids that they’ve missed along the way — phonics, pacing, consistency, focusing. It also makes it easy for me to keep track of their progress.”

When students score 100 on lessons in Hoercher’s classroom, their name goes on the chalk board. And at the end of the day, everyone with their name on the board gets a reward. Hoercher insists that teachers have to be cheerleaders, rooting them on to greater success.

“Even the eighth graders like that motivation. When they test out, they are almost bummed out that they’re not in it any more,’ said Hoercher.

With AutoSkill, students start on “easier” material and work through content, celebrating success at every step along the way. Positive feedback and motivational “buddy” characters keep students focused on learning.

Hoercher’s students aren’t the only ones who want to prolong their use with Academy of READING. Many parents are impressed with the gains they are seeing and they want this success to continue.

“I have not had one parent tell me that they didn’t want their student participating in the Academy of READING,” said Leib. “When students have graduated, their parents ask if we use the program at junior high too. I’ve also had parents want to know if their child can enroll every year — they’re so impressed with the results.”

Successful reading and math intervention programs require more than just great software. With little time and even fewer resources, busy educators need to quickly integrate technology into the classroom, help students become productive immediately and generate rapid results.

“It’s all implementation. The way Barb handles parents and students is amazing. Reading is the most important thing and she takes this program and makes sure that our students get the most out of it.”

As both Belle Valley schools implement the AutoSkill software in their own way, they share another common bond — their success. And they’re not shy about sharing the news.

“I would most definitely recommend it to another district,” said Hoercher. ”I would tell them to investigate it, see how other schools work it in to other schedules. See all the segments you possible can. I believe in the Academy of READING — I’ve seen success first-hand with it in my students.”

“I absolutely recommend the Academy of READING. I think the way it individualizes the program to meet each child’s needs is so very important,” said Haas. “Our classrooms are made up of such diverse groups of children with such different needs and this program allows the teacher to address these needs by what the child needs.”