eSN Special Report: Closing Gaps Early

The school supplies all kindergarten teachers with a paraprofessional for at least 45 minutes a day, and “we bring in as many volunteers as we can to add to that base,” she said.

Teachers use Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Saxon Phonics as their core reading curriculum, and they supplement this instruction with the Waterford Early Learning program.

“I am such a believer in computer-assisted instruction,” Sandy said. “The students average 14 minutes a day on the software, but it varies based on what they need.”

Every kindergarten classroom in Sandy’s school has five computers. Because the largest class size is 22 students, “we can easily get kids on the software in the morning through a rotation on the computers,” Sandy said. “Then, in the afternoon, we can offer a second rotation for the students who need it.”

Sandy attributed her school’s success in closing gaps early to four main factors:

(1) The program’s scope and sequence.

In evaluating the Waterford Early Learning software for use in her school, Sandy said she asked this key question: “If my students spend time on this program, will they master the skills they need?” The answer, she said, was a resounding “yes.”

(2) Fidelity of implementation.

To close early learning gaps and get all students reading on grade level, the software has to be used with fidelity. Sandy said she looked at how much time it would require each day, then asked: “Could we make that work in our classrooms?” Again, the answer was yes.

(3) Teacher support and buy-in.

Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary School has a reading coach on campus, and this person has helped with implementation of the software—guiding both teachers and students.

In addition, district officials make sure the software is working every day. That’s not hard to do, Sandy said, because “it’s very consistent—you can count on it every day.” These two factors have helped ensure teacher buy-in, she added.

(4) Monitoring of the data.

Waterford Early Learning includes a full suite of reporting and analytics tools for teachers and administrators, and that’s extremely important, Sandy said.

“I dog the data,” she said, explaining that she monitors students’ progress on the software every day. “If you don’t do this, the program fades.”

But if you follow all these recommendations, “kids will make progress—even without having attended a preschool program,” Sandy asserted.

For proof, she pointed to her school’s results. Although Stanton-Weirsdale is at or near the bottom among Marion County’s 31 elementary schools in terms of the FLKRS scores of its incoming kindergarteners, the scores of children leaving kindergarten meet or exceed the district’s average.

“This is what we do here on campus, and it works,” Sandy said.

Dennis Pierce

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