In this blended learning lab—three times weekly for 45 minutes as a language arts supplement—students use hand signals to indicate they’re waiting to quiz on a book, looking for a new book to read, or seeking assistance.
Amidst providing support or praise, two full-time AR Zone facilitators ensure that all students are articulating their goals, tracking their progress, and positioning themselves for success. This requires the facilitators to dive into their data daily, conducting Status of the Class reports, giving immediate feedback to students, prioritizing students by need, and putting interventions in place. It’s a highly personalized learning environment at each child’s level, structured to create independent readers and maximizing reading growth.
Clear expectations and goals
“Our AR Zone is based on Accelerated Reader, where all students have clearly outlined expectations and personalized goals,” said AR Zone Facilitator Christina Jimenez. “It builds their reading confidence and stamina, not only for testing, but for their overall education. Their growth in our lab gives them an edge in how to use reading as a tool as well as for fun.”In the AR Zone, it is expected that 90 percent of students meet their individualized point goals, average 85 percent or higher on quizzes, and either read on grade level or achieve 1.5 years growth, according to STAR Reading tests. As of January, 2014, every class at IDEA Weslaco had already qualified for Model Classroom Certification in Accelerated Reader, and several classes had reached Master Classroom status. IDEA Weslaco had also qualified for Model School for the second year in a row.
“We are so proud of our certifications, and these milestones definitely build our students’ confidence in being able to not only reach but exceed their goals,” Jimenez said. “A core value here is, ‘The goal is not as important as what the goal makes us do!’ So whether struggling or advanced, they are all giving their very best—as are we.”
IDEA Weslaco is part of an even larger picture of success, with AR Zones across the entire IDEA Public Schools charter district. Spanning the Rio Grande Valley and central Texas communities, the district includes both an Academy (K-5) and a College Prep (6-12) campus on 15 sites. With 83 percent of students below socio-economic status, the district’s mission focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty by providing a world-class education to low-income students. An impressive 100 percent of IDEA graduates are accepted to colleges and IDEA is ranked in the top 1 percent of the nation’s schools by US News.
To help her differentiate instruction and target math practice, Koth counts on STAR Math tests at the beginning of the year to get a starting point and throughout the yearto keep students moving ahead. “
“I firmly believe that AR is having a positive impact on our students by helping IDEA build a culture of independent reading, high expectations, and goal attainment,” said District AR Coordinator Roberta Fredenburg. “We selected AR for our blended learning approach because it’s customized to each student’s needs, builds comprehension, and has the research to show it works.”
In year two of Accelerated Reader implementation, participation rates at IDEA Public Schools grew from 50-60 percent to 80-85 percent per week, and students scoring above 85 percent also rose from about 50 to 80 percent. Last year, the district celebrated 53 Model Classroom Certifications, and this year that number is already at 78—with two schools qualifying for Model School.
Professional Development enhances progress
Fredenburg, who is responsible for training and coaching AR Zone facilitators, says the Renaissance Learning professional development she received was integral to the district’s success. Fredenburg attended Train the Trainer sessions for Accelerated Reader and STAR Assessments, and she conducts training customized to her district’s needs throughout the year. This includes monthly professional development days, most recently covering how to best use diagnostic reports, particularly with high-priority students.
“Renaissance training has given me a wealth of information on the best practices for implementation,” Fredenburg said. “The online chat feature has also been extremely helpful. When they send the chat log, I save it so I can send it to facilitators with the same questions later.” Communication and consistency are critical, and Fredenburg holds bi-weekly conference calls with AR Zone facilitators. She also monitors her Accelerated Reader and STAR Reading dashboards closely, checking each campus’s Accelerated Reader participation rates and test percentages to prioritize site visits for observation or coaching.
AR Zone facilitators collect real-time data daily and share progress in monthly conversations with their school’s principal. Quarterly, they complete a “progress toward goals” sheet and create a data-driven plan of action for the ensuing quarter.
Students responsible for progress
Students also take responsibility for their progress. Each carries a folder that includes a reading log tracker, as well as story maps,graphic organizers to aid comprehension, question stems for fiction/nonfiction reading, sight word lists, and more support documents.
“Students here feel like everyone collectively cares what they do in our lab, and that builds the value of reading,” Jimenez said. “Maintaining a clear and consistent mission, enforced classroom management, great communication, constant monitoring and the students’ favorite incentives, all factor into what works best for AR here.”
"It's important to give the teachers who share students, grade levels, and departments the time to work with each other on the data and instructional planning," Fochs added. "Professional development is so important so that teachers are aware of where the data is leading them," she said. "It truly takes a village to make it all work. We all have our part in student growth."