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Special Education and Tier III Middle School Students Exceed Reading Program Expectations Using MindPlay

Michael Vergara Published: February 21, 2018

Reading Challenge: Bringing high-risk middle school students to grade level in reading.

Cheryl Efird is “Operation Graduation” Reading Teacher at Morgan County Middle School in Madison, GA. The 718-student, grade six through eight population has a 42 percent rate of free and reduced lunches. The school is part of a county charter school system that two years ago received a grant to implement innovative practices.

“I teach 70+ students in two classes each for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Half of my students have IEPs,” says Efird. “On average, my students are reading in the second to fourth grade range in middle school. To qualify for the program, most students were in the 20th percentile or below on their Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Test and Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI); we also considered if they were served on a reading tier.”


The charter group decided to use MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach for struggling reading students based on the recommendation of a consultant from the University of Georgia.

Students are required to complete 100 to 120 minutes per week on MindPlay, and receive a weekly quiz grade for doing so. If they do not complete 20 to 25 minutes in a 50-minute class period, they complete their minutes as homework or at another time of day.

Ongoing Motivation

Based on the MindPlay leaderboard, students know who is in first place, and they want to be first. The school also offers incentives. “Last year we had a pizza party after the mid-year MAP test. Whenever students get a silver or gold medal on their bi-weekly MindPlay testing, I use ClassDojo on the SmartBoard as a student incentive program,” says Efird. Students can earn extra points for earning Silver and Gold medals. If they do not complete their MindPlay lessons, they do not pass the class. At the end of the 2017 school year, students who excelled the most on MindPlay received an award at the school’s honor night.


Last year’s eighth grade students were on MindPlay for two semesters. They began the program reading at third and fourth grade levels with a goal to improve two grade levels in reading during one calendar school year. “We expect low readers to have a difficult time meeting the standards on the year-end Georgia Milestones state reading assessment,” says Efird. “We were pleasantly surprised when 52 percent of our eighth graders passed the state testing goal. Seventy percent met their MAP growth projection; and 61 percent improved on their SRI.

Last year’s seventh grade students had the most success in reading: 57 percent passed state testing; 91 percent improved on their SRI and the other 9 percent maintained; in addition, 54 percent met their MAP growth projection. Of the 25 seventh graders Efird taught last year, five of them moved back into general education because they achieved grade level expectations.

The school has just completed their mid-year MAP test as well as MindPlay benchmark, with students earning the following results in one semester:

8th grade: 71 percent of students met or exceeded their MAP growth goal; 52 percent improved their Mindplay comprehension level one or more grade levels; 7th grade: MAP, 80 percent; MindPlay, 44 percent; and 6th grade: MAP, 41 percent; MindPlay, 50 percent.

Seventh grade students are showing the most growth overall.

One Outstanding Student

One of eighth-grade student who is served with an IEP is brilliant in math but struggles greatly in reading. He began MindPlay in August, 2016, as a seventh grader. In a total of three semesters, he improved seven reading grade levels based on the MindPlay Comprehension Screener assessment.

His progress was incredible to watch. He started MindPlay at the Kindergarten level, in August, 2016. After the first semester, he was reading at the third-grade level. In May 2017 (second semester), he was at the fifth-grade reading level. When he returned to school in August, 2017, he tested at the sixth-grade reading level, without using MindPlay over the summer. In December, 2017, (third semester) he was at the seventh-grade level based on his MindPlay comprehension score. The whole class celebrated with him. Says Efird, “I am totally ‘blown away’ by what he has accomplished using MindPlay.”

Says Efird, “In middle school there is no time to waste. Our students are going to high school and will be out on their own in a few years. MindPlay closes the gaps in their reading skill. It has been a huge success for our students!”

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