Reading program 'phenomenal'

New London principal praises results of summer school initiative

New London - Last summer, 100 New London High School students struggling with reading spent just under four weeks inside a classroom instead of outside with their friends.

The payoff, high school Principal Tommy Thompson said, was "incredible."

"We gained a grade level and a half within 3½ weeks," Thompson told Board of Education members Thursday during a presentation of the Achieve3000 program the school used to help the students. "The return was phenomenal."

The main goal of the summer institute - held for incoming freshmen and upcoming 10th graders - was to achieve one year of reading growth in 20 days.

Another goal, Thompson said, was to increase teacher effectiveness.

Every lesson was videotaped so that later in the day the teacher, an administrator or an aspiring administrator would review the tape to highlight strong techniques or improve those that were lacking.

"The institute was for students, teachers, administrators and aspiring administrators to commit to our values of working hard and getting better," Thompson said on Friday.

Using Achieve3000, students in the summer institute improved 74 Lexile points. A Lexile, Thompson said, is a widely adopted reading metric that measures how difficult a piece of text is to comprehend in word frequency and sentence length.

Achieve3000 is an adaptive, computer-based reading tool that meets each student at his or her reading level, Thompson said. During the summer session, each student was reading about the same topic, but the degree of difficulty varied. The program allowed school staff to track the individual progress of each student over the course of 3½ weeks.

Each article was accompanied by a series of reading comprehension questions, and students needed to score a 70 percent or better for the article to be counted as read, Thompson said on Friday.

Achieve3000 can be used at home, and students, who had reading assignments outside of school, were logging in at all hours.

Getting students out of bed and to school was a challenge, Thompson said, but the school was aggressive in its approach.

Students were asked to attend the summer institute based on their scores on an assessment the school uses to three times a year to mark their progress in core subjects.

"We were pressing them to come to school, recruiting them and banging down doors to make sure that our students were present for summer school," he said.

The attendance rate for the summer institute was 94 percent.

About 85 students who met attendance goals, completed 40 articles in 18 days and had a 70 percent success rate in their reading comprehension questions were treated to a barbecue and a trip to New York City to see the Blue Man Group.

Thompson said he plans to hold the summer institute again starting in July.


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