November 19, 2018

Let me introduce myself. I am the administrator of a small Christian school in southern Ohio—rural Appalachia. While our school is small (about 140 students total, pre-K—12), it is one of the premier private schools in southern Ohio. I have 33 years in public education. Before this, I was the principal at Pike County Career Technology Center for 10 years, located just down the road from the Academy.

I am beginning my second year at Pike Christian Academy as its administrator and the difference between public and private education has been not only challenging, but also refreshing. During my first year, many things changed as far as the legislature and the laws governing private education in Ohio. One change that affected our school this last year was the requirement for third-grade students who receive the EdChoice Scholarship to pass the third-grade reading test—the third-grade reading guarantee. We had three third-grade students who did not pass and were not able to be promoted to the fourth grade until they could pass the test.

I decided to implement a reading program during the summer in hopes of helping those who needed it to pass the third-grade reading test during the summer. The reality was that two of the three students who did not pass the test were low scoring, and I knew from experience that it would be almost impossible to get them to the threshold they needed to pass this test. One student was very low. Another student was close, so I had high hopes for him. We hired our intervention specialist to administer and develop the program since we did not have one. Remember, we never had to actually pass this test before, until 2018.

I began a search for a supplemental reading program for grades K–3. My search was not to find something for the summer, but for the regular school day starting in the fall. Little did I know help was on the way. I called some superintendent friends of mine that I had known from before and asked them what, if anything, they used to help with their reading programs. Many said they left it up to the teachers and they used whatever supplemental materials they could find. I didn’t think that was an option for us. I finally reached a superintendent that said they had implemented a reading program called Renaissance Accelerated Reader which I was familiar with, but then mentioned the name Renaissance. I talked to my third-grade teacher and she said she had used Accelerated Reader and liked it and also said Renaissance had made a lot of improvements since she had used it a few years ago. I talked to the teacher we hired for summer reading and he said he had used Accelerated Reader and Renaissance Star Assessments at the school where I had talked to the superintendent.

I got on the internet immediately because the summer reading program had already started. I decided to call the number for Renaissance and I was transferred to a person by the name of Sheila. We probably chatted for about an hour that day. She gave me an overview, sent me links to videos, and I thought, “Well, let’s give this a try.” It looked good, but I still was skeptical because I knew it probably wasn’t that good, but it was something better than what we had. I contacted Sheila again and she offered me the summer program for free. She said, “Try it, see what you think.” Our summer teacher set everything up and we were off and running.

In the meantime, I found out that Star Assessments were an “alternative” test that if students passed, they can to go on to the fourth grade. Roy, our intervention specialist, gave a Star Assessment to each student and all three were under the 3.0 threshold needed to qualify for the third grade. The summer went on and Roy kept telling me that the students were doing great. He said two out of the three would pass, but one young girl probably would not. I contacted her parents and told them that their daughter was doing well, but probably would not pass the test. The decision was made by the parents to retain her in the third grade. I hated this with all my being, but there was not much I could do.

The day came, the test was given. The parents came and picked up their children and off they went for what was left of the summer. I was out of the office that day, but all day I was wondering what the result would be, and that young girl who so desperately wanted to continue with her class onto the fourth grade. We had done everything we could, there was nothing else to do. Roy made an appointment to see me. He was all smiles when he entered my office and I knew there was good news for at least two of them. He handed me a sheet of paper with three numbers on it; I knew the cutoff score. All three had passed. WHAT! The young girl was not the bottom score, but scored second. I called her parents and told them she had passed and she could go on to the fourth grade. They were elated! I credit the superiority of the teaching of Roy, Accelerated Reader, and Star Assessments for this success.

Later on in the summer, we gave the state test and all three passed it, too, with very similar results.

Since then, I have had several parents come to me and tell me how wonderful the new reading program is and how happy they are that their children are making such progress not only in reading, but in their other subjects as well.

A week ago, I had the young girl’s parents in for an IEP meeting. After the meeting, I was talking to her mother and father. The school psychologist was in attendance also. The mother said, “I would like to say a couple other things, Mr. Smith.” I said, “Go ahead.” She continued, “Well, I can’t believe the change in our daughter. She was never interested in school. She didn’t hate it, but just wasn’t interested in it. But since the beginning of school, her favorite place in the world to go is the public library. Last evening, something happened that has never happened before in her time in school. After she got home from school, she put her backpack down and got a book out and sat on the living room couch and began reading it and read for like two hours.” I said to her, “Do you know why she is doing that? She can read and she likes it!” The mother said she was so happy for her daughter. Her favorite places now are school and the library. Wow, what a change.

Roy teaches Language Arts to grades four, five, and six. He told his fourth-grade students that if everyone in the fourth grade went up after a Star Assessment, he would give them a pizza party. Guess what? They earned a pizza party. One student, one from the summer reading program, entered the fourth-grade reading at a 3.1-grade level. After this latest Star Assessment, he is reading at a 4.8-grade level.

On Facebook last night I saw a parent who had a child in Roy’s fourth-grade class. She was telling all her Facebook friends about Roy and our school. She knew that everyone had gone up on their reading scores. All our K—12 teachers are using Renaissance. Grades are up and reading levels are up across the board. I can heartily recommend Renaissance to anyone. Their solutions are as good as the company claims and even better.

Thank you, Renaissance.

Keith A. Smith, PhD

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