The number of incoming freshmen who require reading intervention has more than doubled since 2011 and continues to grow, leading school officials to call the situation a “crisis.”

District 202 School Board members heard a report on ETHS’s remedial reading program at their meeting Feb. 22. The report shows that in the 2011-12 school year, 48 students were enrolled in ETHS’s RE0180, “Reading with Supports” course. Of those, 60 % were black, 27% Hispanic, 13% had an Individual Education Plan (IEP), 2% were English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, and 79% were from low-income households (measured by reduce-fee or free-lunch status).

This year, 101 students are taking the course. Of those, 52% are black, 36% Hispanic, 20% have an IEP, 20% are ESL, and 67% are from low-income households. And next year, ETHS estimates that 142 students will be enrolled.

The reading supports class is for incoming freshman whose reading scores on the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test are below the 40th percentile, nationally. Based on a comparison of the class sizes of District 65’s eighth grade class in 2014 and ETHS’s freshman year class in 2015, it appears that about 24% of incoming black freshmen and 21% of incoming Hispanic freshman at ETHS are coming from outside of District 65. 

The report “is pretty startling,” said Board member Mark Metz. “What I’m seeing here is a crisis.”

“Yes, we do see this as a crisis,” said Scott Bramley, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction at ETHS.

 “We do have to understand this is urgent,” said District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. “Reading is the gateway to all learning. It correlates with grades, graduation, career opportunities, being incarcerated – so many life outcomes and indicators. Everyone has to be a reader.”

Response to the Trend

The report details several actions ETHS is taking to assist struggling readers.

“We obviously have a commitment through our Joint Literacy Goal [with D65] to be doing work in K-12,” said Mr. Bramley. “We also have been simultaneously committed to addressing students while they are here.”

The literacy goal is to “ensure that all students are proficient readers and college and career ready by the time they reach 12th grade.” To achieve that, the Districts are backmapping the curriculum from the high school years to ensure that students are taught the foundational skills in earlier grades that are necessary to succeed in later grades. They are also implementing what is called “disciplinary literacy,” in which literacy skills are incorporated into classes of all subjects using the language and context of the specific discipline (e.g., history, science, arts). 

At ETHS, a disciplinary literacy committee was formed by Kiwana Brown, ETHS reading specialist. Teachers from all nine academic departments are working together to study the disciplinary literacy principles and investigate how to integrate them into classes. The committee has since evolved into the disciplinary literacy instructional framework for staff professional development.

Professional Development. ETHS is also providing professional development to assist teachers target other reading skills. Aside from training on disciplinary literacy, ETHS has partnered with Dr. Carol Lee of Northwestern University who is working with teachers on culturally responsive instruction and “students’ cultural capital,” emphasizing reading and analysis tasks. She is also working directly with the Reading with Supports teachers to provide guidance.

Star Assessment. During the 2014-15 school year, ETHS started using the STAR reading assessment as the “screener and progress monitoring tool” for the reading intervention program, according to the report. The STAR test is a computer adaptive test that takes about 15 minutes.

In the spring of 2015, the assessment was given to all ETHS 9-11th graders. Results showed that 80% of students were at or above grade level in reading or making expected growth, while 20% were not. For those enrolled in Reading with Supports, 61% tested at or above grade level or making expected program, and 39% were not.

Since STAR measures specific reading skills, it is one tool to “target interventions” and allow for “differentiated instruction,” said Mr. Bramley. Teachers can access additional resources and instructional materials through the online program to further develop an action plan for individual students, he said.

If District 65 also gave the STAR test, said Ms. Brown, ETHS could better see where students are when they come in and would be able to “jump on it as soon as they get here and start working on those skills” identified as needing work in the test.

District 65 has been using the MAP test for almost 10 years to assess students three times a year to assist teachers target interventions. ETHS chose to use the STAR test in 2014.

Reading Supports. Another step ETHS has taken is to update the Reading with Supports class. Between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, the RE0180 course curriculum was revised “to align to the Common Core State Standards and explicitly articulate a scope and sequence of literacy skills to be addressed in the course,” says the report. The class will continue to be modified to be more individualized and more effective, said Ms. Brown.

Additional supports through the newly created “Academic Intervention Team” are being provided to students enrolled in RE0180 who are making multiple Cs or any Ds, Fs or Incompletes in other classes.

The report indicated that of the 101 students currently enrolled in RE0180, 78% of their grades are A, B and Cs and 22% are D, F or Incompletes. Further, 48% of enrollees have zero grades below a C, 34% have 1-3 lower grades and 18% have four or more low grades. 

“We are trying to effect a change in the trajectory of these students’ lives once they enter the high school,” said Dr. Bramley. “We still have work to do.”

Summer Learning. ETHS is also focused on summer learning opportunities. Teachers will actively recruit students to enroll in the ETHS summer class, “Reading and Math in the Social Context,” between 8th grade and freshman year. The reading portion of the course helps students improve reading proficiency. Students who take the course are given the MAP test, which provides them another opportunity to demonstrate their reading proficiency and possibly change their freshman class schedule and intervention needs. 

Community Partnerships. Staff is also working to form community partnerships. Currently conversations are taking place with the Evanston Library, the City of Evanston Park and Recreation Department and other community leaders to see what is already being offered “to help with the summer slide,” said Ms. Brown. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but make sure the students who need service are getting them in an effective manner.”

 “We also have a concerted effort to just get kids reading,” said Mr. Bramley. “Through Cradle to Career initiatives and others we are really trying to get out the word that we just need to develop a love of reading in the community.”

10 More Minutes A Day

A chart prepared by the Illinois Administrators Association’s “Get Illinois Reading” program illustrated how adding 10 more minutes of reading time per day can dramatically increase the number of words read per year. A person ranked in the 30th percentile reads on average 1.8 minutes a day, which is 106,000 words a year, according to the chart. Add an extra 10 minutes of reading per day, and that person will read 694,889 words a year, a 556% increase. That equates to more words read by a person in the 70th percentile who reads about 9.6 minutes a day, according to the chart.

 Those numbers show that, “we can really effect a change in the reading performance of students in this community,” said Dr. Witherspoon. “We don’t have to make it overly complicated. We know that the more a person reads, the more a person grows his or her comprehension skills. Imagine if all students read another 10 minutes a day.”

Dr. Witherspoon went on to tell the Board that the school is currently trying to work with the community to add 10 minutes of reading per day to every summer activity this year. “Everywhere we find young people, what if we became a community of readers and help every child learn the value in reading an extra 10 minutes a day. I am not suggesting every student would jump from the 30th to 70th percentile, but there is a strong correlation between how many words a day a person reads and that person’s reading level.”

Reaching Back

Dr. Witherspoon also discussed the idea of ETHS “reaching back” to middle schools, making the middle school era more of an “overlap” so when the transition to middle school begins, so too does the transition to high school. “We need to figure out how we can work in concert in those middle school years. These are the kinds of things we are proposing because this is urgent. District 65 knows this, they get it; these are the same kids.”

There is no need to duplicate efforts with the same age groups, said Board member Monique Parsons, when there is a “huge gap” in middle school. “I believe this is an opportunity for the community to become more involved.”

Potential Barriers

Ms. Parsons asked Ms. Brown if any barriers to reading have been identified. “Home factors, absenteeism, motivation” are some, said Ms. Brown. There are many factors that affect students’ reading ability, “especially when they have experienced failure for many years and are really not motivated to put their best foot forward, when their best foot has never been good enough. We’re looking at ways to get them to see that any effort they put forth is good effort.” 

Jonathan Baum, board member, said that students who struggle with reading do not read as much. “Just putting a book in their hands can be frustrating,” he said, referring to the notion of handing out books in a camp setting. He went on to suggest that there must be volunteers available in those situations “who don’t just hand them a book,” but read with the kids, ask questions, engage.

 “The more you read, the more you gain the skills,” said Dr. Witherspoon. Books must be at level and socially relevant. We “have to start somewhere,” said Ms. Parsons.

“I earlier described this is a crisis, but there is a lot of hope here,” said Mr. Metz. “The good news is we know names, it’s a small enough number that it’s not just big data. These are real people. We can intervene and are building a model to reach them on a one-on-one level. What I’m hearing is that is the sort of intervention we’re doing.”