Michael Vergara Published: January 24, 2020

District Profile: Spring Branch ISD, Houston, TX

Student Population:

• 35,000 students

• 54.4% at-risk

• diverse, with a large percentage of English language learners

• socio-economic: wide range, from high to low

Julie White is the Special Education facilitator for Spring Branch ISD in the greater Houston area. With a background as a reading teacher and elementary school teacher, White’s focus is especially on supporting language arts for special education students.

A Broad and Diverse Role

Her students represent a diverse range of special education learners across all 25 elementary, seven middle, and four high schools. Her role is equally broad and diverse, including, in-class support and ongoing resource in language arts; meeting with resource teachers every nine weeks, and strategizing about how to ensure that MindPlay is implemented with fidelity. She also trains teachers in writing individual education plans (IEPs), helps schedule special education students in the resource pull-out programs and supports teachers who run these resource rooms.

MindPlay Central to Language Arts Support

MindPlay has become a central feature in the district’s language arts literacy intervention program. Spring Branch, had previously used MindPlay only at the middle school and high school levels, but decided to expand MindPlay use to elementary schools last year because says White, “We had been using a different reading program but it didn’t show the student growth we needed.”

MindPlay is used in the resource setting at the elementary level and in basic language arts/reading courses at the secondary level. White sends out usage data every two weeks and sits down with teachers to talk about MindPlay data and student growth every nine weeks.

Implemented last year with fourth and fifth graders in special education in four low-performing elementary schools, MindPlay use this year has grown to service the same grades in seven low-performing elementary schools.

MindPlay is also used by all seven middle schools for special education students, as well as special education ninth and tenth graders in the district’s four high schools.

MindPlay’s Positive Impact

Last year’s results were impressive. Using MindPlay’s Universal Screener to establish benchmark skill levels in the fall, student growth was measured again in late spring.

In one elementary school, 80% of special education students grew one full grade level in reading. The school with the lowest growth of the four elementary schools still saw 41% of students growing a full grade level in reading.

At a lower-performing high school, 40% of students accomplished a half or full year’s growth in reading.

“We especially saw growth,” says White, “in students with autism and kids who began the program reading at a kindergarten level.”

Encouraging & Empowering Students

White also observes that success breeds more success. The best motivation for students to continue working on their reading skills with MindPlay is the growth they’re seeing. Once students see that they’ve made a year’s growth, that’s a major incentive.”

Spring Branch has a clear goal for its special education student population: to get all students back into general education classrooms with their grade-level peers.  And, according to White, the key is making sure that everybody thinks about every child first.

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