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Q&A: DSST literacy interventionist talks about reading rates, testing and importance of the work

DSST has brought in three Literacy Interventionists to help address the decline in reading assessment proficiency that educators are seeing at DSST and across Colorado.

Samantha Hakes is the literacy interventionist at our Aurora Science & Tech (AST) Middle School, where she works with students twice a week for 45 minutes to help them improve their reading and testing skills.

Hakes shares her perspective on reading rates, testing and the importance of the reading interventionists’ work.

1) Reading rates were shown to have dropped across schools in general. How do reading rates look at DSST?

If we look at the CMAS writing data for DSST middle schools, we can see that an average of 50% of students, at most campuses, scored a zero. This does NOT mean that they didn’t have access to the prompt/reading, but that they either lacked the stamina to complete the reading portion and have enough time for writing OR they did not attempt the prompt.

Testing fatigue is real, so we need to strategically think about which assessments our students truly need to take and which assessments guide instruction. It’s imperative that we find a way to encourage student and family buy-in with CMAS, while also not teaching to the test.

2) Your title is “literacy interventionist.” How is literacy intervention different than enrichment and how does that impact students?

The three literacy interventionists who are piloting the program this year at AST, DSST: Green Valley Ranch, and DSST: College View middle schools, are experts in their field. All three of us have over 10 years of instructional experience with an emphasis on literacy development, and experience with differentiating instruction to meet diverse needs. In addition, the programs that we are using – STARI, Words Their Way, and Wilson – are research-based interventions and most include professional development or training before implementation of the programs. With all of this in mind, we have the experience, background knowledge, and tools to truly identify the root causes of students’ literacy gaps and then create individualized plans to target and close gaps.

Therefore, this is different from enrichment, because literacy interventionists do not teach any other classes. Our sole focus is on intervention groups, which utilize specialized assessments and instruction to support all students.

3) Why do you think this work is important based on the current educational/literacy climate?

If we think about our current sixth graders, they were learning phonics, decoding and other foundational reading skills in third grade online during the height of the pandemic. Our seventh and eighth graders were still in elementary school at this time too, learning skills that prepare them for the rigor of middle school. However, we know that many students, for a variety of factors, may not have had strong access to grade-level curriculum and instruction, so the gaps continued to widen during the pandemic. Therefore, we’re seeing large numbers of students coming to middle school with gaps in phonics and other foundational skills.

These skills cannot be taught in content classes because teachers must provide grade-level curriculum and instruction. So, how do we support our students who are not students with disabilities, but have significant gaps in learning that need to be closed? Before literacy intervention, we could only service a small number of students through enrichment, which had varying degrees of effectiveness. However, now that we have this program, interventionists can thoroughly assess struggling students, implement research-based instruction, and closely monitor progress.

To learn more about the DSST Literacy Intervention Program at our three pilot schools, you can reach out to Daniela Di Napoli.