Rural Wisconsin Middle School Customizes Learning for At-Risk Students

Reading Challenge: Implementing an adaptive and affordable reading solution for struggling middle school students.

In the far western edge of Wisconsin, the primarily rural community of Prescott is fueled by agriculture and industry, including an oil refinery in nearby St. Paul, MN.

Principal Jim Dalluhn is now in his third year at the 360-student Prescott Middle School, which serves students in grades six through eight. Dalluhn wears multiple hats in the small, tight-knit Prescott School district. In addition to being principal of Prescott’s one middle school, Dalluhn works on a districtwide team that focuses on interventions that help students at all grade levels succeed. “It’s a small district and a small team,” says Dalluhn. “Our job is to make sure we have the correct Response to Intervention system beginning in Pre-K.”

Solution: With a broad education background, including more than 20 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal in other districts, Dalluhn introduced MindPlay to Prescott after seeing how much reading teachers in his former district loved the program.

“MindPlay has the ability to adapt to the specific needs of each student, coming up with a different approach or new activity every time a learner is struggling with a concept,” he says. Dalluhn also notes he has not seen another program that goes more deeply into grammar and comprehension.

Students are identified for intervention based on a combination of classroom performance and local, state and national tests. At the middle school, at-risk kids are scheduled into a language arts lab where they work on MindPlay 30 minutes a day. Student progress is reviewed every quarter to make sure they are using the program with fidelity and meeting their academic goals via MindPlay’s RAPS progress monitoring tool.

Districtwide, MindPlay serves 41 students, with 16 of those at the middle school level. “We want to do our best to provide students with the help they need before they get to high school,” he says.

Impact: Prescott is in its second year of using MindPlay. Before that says Dalluhn, literacy intervention was “scattershot,” depending on what teachers had used before. “It was less about what students needed and more about what teachers felt comfortable with,” he says.

Just this year, nine of the 21 students in the MindPlay program had already exited by the end of the first semester, which means they are meeting or exceeding grade level literacy requirements. At the beginning of the year, 11 students were critical and two were at grade level, but after four months of use, six students were out of the critical, six more were meeting grade level, and three were exceeding grade level requirements.

Educators are seeing an average of a 1.1 grade level increase over 3 quarters, with some district classrooms averaging up to 2.5 grade levels, says Dalluhn. “Every year I see students who come into the program start to flourish. They’re more engaged and are progressing better academically in all their classes.”

Parents are also telling Prescott educators that after about 18 weeks students say that school has become easier, and they are no longer avoiding reading in Science, Social Studies or other classes.

MindPlay also offers a “pretty good bang for your buck financially,” says Dalluhn, who says the program’s three-time transferable license allows them to service a large number of students at a cost-efficient price.

“MindPlay is our first line of defense and one of the few online resources I would use because of the breadth of program. Most don’t go past phonics, but this one includes comprehension and strong vocabulary work,” says Dalluhn. “Once students begin to experience success with reading, we see a new pep in their step.”