In the last 10 years, results from a program for Madison first-graders struggling to read show it has lagged progress made in the nation but has made improvements recently after a significant drop three years ago.
The Madison School District has spent about $5.2 million in the last five years on the program known as Reading Recovery, which provides extra reading instruction in 18 schools for first-graders who have low reading proficiency, according to a recent district report to be discussed by the school board at a Jan. 5 instructional work group meeting.
The program has been used in Madison schools since 1990 and has been confined to only schools using federal Title I funding for low-income students for the past two years.
But the results of the program have been mixed, causing some school board members over the years to question whether the district should abandon it.
Next school year, the district will remove the requirement that Title I schools use the program and allow school principals to choose whether they want to continue using the program or use the money for another reading intervention.
“Locally, although some (Reading Recovery) students in some schools have success during and after the program, results over time show no consistent positive effects at a systems level,” the district’s presentation on the report said.
The district report found that since the 2004-05 school year, the program has seen declining student participation and that the overwhelming majority of students in the program are minorities, and from low-income households.
It also found that participating first-graders were disproportionately male, receiving special education services and are English language learners.
Thirty-eight percent of the students who received extra instruction under the program during the 2013-14 school year successfully reached the goal of being able to read and write at their grade level within 16 to 20 weeks, compared to a 56 percent rate 10 years ago. The state rate is 45 percent, while the national rate for children participating in the program is 55 percent.
A growing number of students also are recommended for further assessment or instruction after completing a 20-week session of reading interventions.
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Overall, 50 percent of students completed the program in 2013-14, which means they either successfully exited after meeting their goals after 20 weeks or were recommended for further assessment or help. The national completion rate is 72 percent.
Students in the program — even those who successfully met their goals to exit the program — generally exhibited lower reading proficiency on the district’s Measures of Academic Progress tests later in school after receiving the extra instruction, the report said.
Just 5 percent of the program’s students were considered to be proficient in reading on the district’s MAP tests during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. Overall, 38 percent of the district’s students were considered proficient in reading during that time.
“Altogether, these results suggest that former Reading Recovery students who were identified as among the students needing the most support in literacy in Grade 1 remained among those needing the most support in later grades, even if they were discontinued from Reading Recovery,” the report said.
In the same time period, students who completed the program had slightly higher literacy rates on the Reading Recovery assessments in first grade than their peers who were not in the program, but they did not have higher literacy rates on other tests administered to all students in the district, according to the report.
The number of students in the Reading Recovery program has dropped from 301 in the 2004-05 school year to 192 students in the last school year.
Hispanic students make up 38 percent of the program’s students, while black students make up 35 percent. Forty-four percent of the students are English language learners.
The program costs about $1 million a year, with the bulk of those expenses in salaries, averaging about $5,200 per student in a group of 192 — although the vast majority of those costs recently were covered by Title I dollars instead of the district’s operating budget.
Lisa Kvistad, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said Reading Recovery’s results have been mixed in part because the program has never been fully implemented in Madison and isn’t used with most first-graders who are struggling the most in reading, as is the case in other school districts that use it.