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Rock Run (IA) Elementary School

/Academy Interventions

Download PDF version of this articleSuccess for a teacher comes from many small victories, often one student and one win at a time. It’s most rewarding when a student has that defining, “eureka” moment when they finally understand something they’ve been struggling to learn. It’s a bittersweet victory when that student is a high school freshman and they have just mastered reading beyond a grade four level. Cindy Slauson experienced that very situation several years ago as principal of Rock Run Elementary School in Iowa Falls, Iowa.

Slauson, now principal at Northeast Elementary in Ankeny (IA), recalls that this particular student was involved with sports and widely liked by teachers and peers alike. He was considered a “good” student, moving successfully through the educational system. The student knew he was intelligent, but still struggled with high school reading — and he desperately wanted to go to college.

“It’s not a stretch to say that Academy of READING® transformed this student’s life — providing academic options that couldn’t be considered with a grade four reading ability.”
Cindy Slauson, Former Principal

The local newspaper had recently published an article about the Iowa Falls School District adding Academy of READING® to their curriculum. The implementation was part of the district’s intervention strategy to target at-risk grade school students. The student contacted Slauson to inquire if he, too, could benefit from the use of Academy of READING. Although the district’s intervention strategy was targeting at-risk grade school students, this freshman was determined to give it a try.

“I sat down and talked with him about the premise of the whole thing — it’s got to be a commitment,” Slauson said. “I told him ‘I’m not going to come look for you — we’re going to set a time and you have to be here.’ He assured me he was committed and we got him set up in the computer lab.”

“A few days after starting, this student approached me about a friend who was also struggling with their reading — word spread like wildfire,” Slauson said. “Next thing you know I have seven high school boys in our elementary school lab. We applied tough user conditions to ensure these students were serious — in part because there was virtually no teacher intervention or support.”

The students had to be at the lab by 7 am three mornings a week for a 30-45 minute self-directed tutorial. Slauson went so far as to offer a ride to a student without transportation of his own. “I told him ‘I’m not waiting, I’m not honking — I pull in the driveway and you’re not there, I leave.’ Three times a week over an entire semester that little guy is standing there — he never missed it.”

According to Academy of READING pre-testing, the students were reading at about a fourth grade level prior to using the software. Upon completion, post-testing results showed that the group had improved to about an eighth grade reading level — a gain of four grade levels in just over a semester. Those impressive performance gains would have been difficult to accomplish through traditional teaching techniques in the same time period. The amount of one-on-one instruction required would have been prohibitively high — not to mention potential limited availability of teachers with the right skills needed to help a group of high school freshmen acquire foundation literacy skills.

“At least five of the seven students would not have graduated from high school had it not been for this (Academy of READING). I truly believe that.” Slauson said. “This is such a good example of how technology in the classroom can make a dramatic difference to at-risk students in a short period. Academy of READING is effective because it’s based on extensive research, enables you to pre-test students to establish a foundation and then monitor the performance gains of each student. We use it to quickly identify various at-risk populations early and to build individualized training programs that motivate students to learn at their own pace.”

Through the software’s individual assessment capability, the Academy of READING allows struggling students to work systematically and independently on their critical skill gaps, allowing educators to concentrate their time and effort on students needing the most help. Using a three-step intervention methodology, the program delivers a dynamic individualized training experience for each student.

And what happened to the high school freshman? He expects to graduate from college next year.