ESCANABA - Reading is just one of the many important skills students learn in school, and at Escanaba Area Public Schools, student reading skills have improved following the implementation of a fairly recent reading assessment program.
Escanaba began implementing the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS) program in the 2005-2006 school year, according to Rhonda Martineau, Title I teacher at the Escanaba Upper Elementary School. According to its website, DIBELS is essentially a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills from kindergarten through sixth grade.
Martineau is one of three educators responsible for the successful implementation of the program.
She, along with Soo Hill Elementary School Title I teacher Kelly LaMarche and Cathy Claes from the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD, were hoping to find a way to make sure at-risk students were improving on the reading skills they were lacking.
Martineau and Claes attended training in Chicago with the authors of the DIBELS program, and thought the program would be beneficial.
"We saw the value in this assessment program because not only does it look at your students' reading ability the minute they walk in the door in the first two weeks in September, but there's also a progress monitoring component that's really important," said Martineau. "That first benchmark assessment shows us which students are at-risk for reading failure. We put them into a reading intervention program that would address their s pecific deficits, and then every other week we progress monitor them. We give them a quick recheck to make sure that they're really making progress and if they aren't ... we change what we're doing with them because obviously that's not working."
DIBELS determines three levels of students through benchmark assessments. Students who score in the core group should only require regular classroom instruction, while strategic intervention indicates a student requiring some intervention. Intensive intervention identifies students who are most at risk for reading failure and need the most intervention time.
The DIBELS program has paid off. Martineau reviewed benchmark assessments in September of students currently in sixth grade. These 193 students were the first class to completely use the DIBELS program and its interventions from kindergarten to sixth grade.
"These reports came out and we no longer had any students showing a need for intensive intervention," said Martineau. "The only kids that need intensive intervention have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and they are a part of our special ed program."
Only eight of the students in regular education throughout the sixth grade class of 193 students showed a need for strategic intervention.
"When these students were tested in the beginning of their kindergarten year, 34 percent of them showed risk of failure in reading," said Martineau. "This fall, those kids only showed 10 percent of them with any sort of risk, and that 10 percent includes our special education students."
Martineau said staff are excited the program has helped them make changes addressing student learning and credits kindergarten through sixth grade staff for implementing many changes along the way to address the needs of at-risk students. She also noted Title I assistants are a critical component to the success of interventions.
"It's been a huge team effort to make these changes but in the long run, it's panned out," she said. "I hope we can continue to see that kind of success."
Escanaba's success story was recently featured in the December 2012 edition of the DIBELS newsletter. Martineau had informed DIBELS program leaders about the success of the program in Escanaba and heard from one of the original authors, Roland Good, who wanted to feature this success story. Martineau has also been invited to a DIBELS Summit in March in Albuquerque, N.M., to further discuss Escanaba's success with the program.
The DIBELS assessment program is used throughout school districts in the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD as well as every U.S. state. It has even been used worldwide in thousands of school districts, including Canada, France, New Zealand, South Korea, South Africa, and Chile. For more information, visit www.dibels.org.