Middle School Struggling Readers Average Two to Three Years’ Grade Level Growth in One Semester

Reading Challenge: Middle school students are up to four grade levels below in reading.

Richard Wiley, Ed.S., M.Ed., is EL and Tier III Reading Interventionist at Lou Mendive Middle School in Reno, NV.

With 1,100 grade six through eight students, Mendive serves a population of 47 percent free/reduced lunch students, many of whom are up to four grade levels below in reading.The average reading level for most Mendive EL students in August was third to fourth grade; the average for special education students was second to third grade. Reading comprehension tended to be their lowest feature; approximately 25 percent of the special education students were in the kindergarten to first grade range. Vocabulary, phonics and fluency were slightly higher than reading comprehension for all groups of students.

After a preview last year with a selected group of special education, dyslexic, EL, and Tier III reading intervention students, the school found that the MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach (MindPlay) addressed their targeted students’ core reading problems. Very few interventions that they had previously tried made a significant difference for students far below grade level. Says Wiley, “MindPlay reaches these very low readers and students two or three levels below grade level very well.

“This year we expanded the program to 60 seventh and eighth grade special education and EL students. We target 90 to 100 minutes of instructional class time in a given week. All of these students have demonstrated incredible reading gains in a single semester, with an average of 20 usage hours on MindPlay.”

Ongoing Motivation:
“Using MindPlay is hard work for these students,” says Wiley. “We give them speeches weekly to encourage them. I explain: ‘If you want to lose a certain number of pounds or bench press a specific weight at the end of four months, you have to go to the gym regularly. Doing MindPlay is your gym time’ You cannot reasonably expect to meet your goals unless you do your workouts.’ Students understand and accept this logic, even though they do not like doing the hard work.”

After students completed the initial screener in MindPlay, Wiley developed a set of specific monthly goals for each skill feature of their reading, including comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness, and vocabulary. Individual word tables indicate where a student is right now and where s/he should be in May. For, example, if a student were reading 50 words per minute in August and targeted to read 215 words per minute in May, they calculated how many words per minute improvement was required each month. They then looked at their reports, set their own goals and adjusted their monthly targets accordingly. Through this approach they have become self-directed learners and competent assessors of their own work.

“This is the first time I have had 10 students attain grade level reading proficiency and be able to exit entirely out of our reading intervention program,” says Wiley. “These students all started MindPlay more than two years below enrolled grade, and within one semester, they were at grade level.”

The school has also seen two to three grade levels of reading growth for 40 percent of their students. Several students grew four grade levels, and one grew five. The special education groups have had incredible growth, and 64 percent of all students have improved at least one grade level in comprehension.

One seventh grade special education student started at the kindergarten level in reading comprehension and first to second grade level in other categories. After 20 usage hours, he is now at the fifth-grade reading level in comprehension and third to fourth in all other categories.
One seventh grade EL learner, a former special education student, started at a fourth-grade reading level and is now at a seventh-grade reading level after 18 usage hours. She has since exited the program.
(Three of our school district standardized tests confirm the MindPlay growth data: Silent Reading Fluency, Reading Comprehension and Oral Reading Fluency.)

Praise for MindPlay:
Says Wiley, “MindPlay teaches basic Tier III reading skills better than I could in my classroom because it is naturally differentiated already. It is like having an individual teacher’s aide for every student in the room. This allows me to more carefully monitor each student’s progress in order to build upon strengths and work on weaknesses in an individualized way.”

The program is engaging and fun without being “childish” for middle school students, says Wilely. The user interface is integrative, interactive and colorful, not just another “boring” reading passage on a computer.

“MindPlay works. If educators are willing to pay a little more and dedicate the time needed to make it work for their goals, this is the fastest and best program that I have seen to help kids learn to read fluently,” says Wiley.