Andrew Hysell, Kansas Reading Roadmap project director, looks at USD 250 Pittsburg as an example for the rest of the state.
"They're the model I want to point to, because they're doing so well," Hysell said.
The first report is out on USD 250 Pittsburg as an early implementer of the Kansas Reading Roadmap (KRR), and the results are good for the district and for the KRR. The KRR involves a coordinated series of efforts in-school, after-school, over summer and at home for students to help improve reading and math scores.
According to a study of the program's effect on USD 250 Pittsburg by the University of Kansas, the percentage of K-3 students meeting or exceeding reading standards has improved from roughly 50.5 percent in spring 2013 to 68.7 percent in fall 2014, a jump of more than 18 percent. The increase is even more significant for "students in need" from 26.8 percent to 49.4 percent over the same time period.
Additionally, the percentage of K-3 students needing intensive reading interventions is also dropping quickly. In spring 2013, roughly 19.2 percent of students needed such reading interventions. Now, the number has dropped to 6.8 percent in fall 2014. The drop is just as significant for "students in need," falling from 40.7 percent to 22.7 percent in the same time period.
Hysell complimented Pittsburg on getting all the parts of the Kansas Reading Roadmap working in the same direction.
"They're our example. They did such a good job implementing all the components. It's a hard job getting all the pieces and to align them. It's something Pittsburg has excelled at doing. They've really embraced it."
Part of that could be that USD 250 Pittsburg got an early start on some of the components. For instance, Pittsburg adopted the multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) about a year before Hysell approached them.
"At the time, they didn't have the MTSS aspect of the program. After meeting with them, they decided they needed to add that," said Destry Brown, USD 250 Superintendent. "I told them I didn't think they'd have success unless they had MTSS."
Brown said that when the MTSS first started in Pittsburg, roughly 30 percent of elementary students were reading and doing math on grade level. Now, some of those grade levels are performing above 90 percent on both and all are above 80 percent.
In addition, the Kansas Reading Roadmap has provided grants and funding to help complete the process. Through the KRR, funding was made available for after-school programs that could not be made available before, as well as a Families and Schools Together program that is engaging 24 families at this time. Another program helped expand the summer school program beyond three hours a day to full-day summer school that averaged 141 students over the summer.
"They showed growth in Pittsburg [over the summer]," Hysell said. "Usually the summer means skill loss."
That doesn't mean that it was easy to put these programs into place.
"The biggest adjustment was really scheduling. The MTSS requires 120 minutes a day of 'core reading' or core language arts. We didn't have that much time built in for that. We had to squeeze some things. We also have to have 90 minutes of math. With that much language arts and math, that ate a lot of our day, and we also had to put in for systems of support, 40 minutes for reading and 40 minutes of math, to get additional time for tutoring and help. Already, that's most of the day," Brown said. "Even though we may not have a social studies or science class, a lot of the reading materials tie in to social studies or science studies."
On the elementary level, reading and math are important for future learning in middle and high schools, which explains the intense focus on those subjects.
Brown said he didn't want to see these early results plateau or decline, and the MTSS and other programs will work to keep that focus going forward. He thanked the elementary school teachers and staff for their efforts and praised the results already being shown.
"We're struggling with middle school achievement-wise right now, but I think we've got a pretty good handle on what we need to do to make the gains there so kids don't fall back when going to middle school," Brown said. "This isn't rocket science. It's a lot of head to head, face to face, with kids in small groups. We're working with the schedule to have that support in place. It's getting everything working together and not in isolation. That's the big key."