Then we started talking about the children at our school, the struggling readers. You know, the ones who get stuck in level B, C, and D for the entirety of first grade. I have to admit, I have seen MANY students like this. In fact, despite my best efforts (and BELIEVE me, I have REALLY tried and will continue to do so for as long as I can), I would say that a firm majority of my students do not benchmark level I at the end of first grade. Most of them end up at around level F. Add on summer loss, and they show up for second grade reading level E. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this. Almost 100% of my students are beginning or intermediate ELLs. Most of my students have parents that are functionally illiterate. Okay, so two strikes against them....BUT... they come to school every day. As my Assistant Principal said, "If a child comes to school every day, there is NO reason why they should not learn to read." It's true! They deserve the support they need to read on grade level.
For the past 3 years at my school, we have not had ANY reading intervention for the lower grades. Seriously, NOTHING. No passport, no reading recovery, not even AIS. None of the K-2 teachers have AIS. In fact, I didn't even know what AIS was my first year because I had never been serviced and I have still NEVER had AIS in my room. And I tried to get my kids reading. I had strategy groups, ESL groups (I'm bilingual certified, so my students do not receive additional ESL pullout), and guided reading groups. We had our "Just Right Baggies" and our mixed level bins and a print-rich environment. We did "Words Their Way" which I adapted for ESL, Fountas and Pinnell "Phonics," etc. We did shared reading, interactive writing, shared writing, etc. Read aloud with "stop and jot," accountable talk, and whole class conversations. I was doing everything I had been taught to do, but it wasn't working for everyone. Of course I have seen kids go from not being able to write their own name to reading level H by the end of the year, but it's not all kids. We have usually 5 or 6 real strugglers (levels B, C, D, and E), 10 who progress but still end up below grade level (levels F, G, and H) , and about 5 or 6 who benchmark or exceed the benchmark (levels I, J, K, L). This is unacceptable, especially knowing that statistics show much higher high school drop out rates for students who did not read at grade level by the end of first grade.
The trainer from the reading program really honed in on what we as teachers already know. All teachers are important and can make a serious impact, but some grades have higher stakes (not like testing, but for life). First grade is one of those "make it or break it" years statistically speaking. First grade teachers are some of the most important people in a school. She also admitted that Balanced Literacy is great for the kids who progress, but it does very little for the strugglers. That's why I always see that group of 5 or 6 who seemingly make little or no progress throughout the year. They need intensive one-to-one instruction. I really can't wait to get this program up and running. I would be so ecstatic at the end of the year if I could send everyone to second grade reading on grade level (or at least close!).