It has all the makings of a classic hoops tale—bracket predictions, fierce competition, and a trash-talking title run from a Cinderella team. But in this tale, the basketballs are books and the hoopsters are a team of pumped-up students at Tuskegee Airmen Global (TAG) Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. Underfunded and underestimated, TAG Academy students set out to prove they could read with the best, then round-by-round, knocked off each of their challengers in the district’s annual Spring Reading Madness tournament.
TAG Academy Media Specialist Lajuana Ezzard says that high expectations and a newly discovered love of reading sparked the winning streak. “A lot of our team’s enthusiasm began with the district’s rollout of Renaissance myON® Reader in early January. Reading specialists and teachers loved the solution, and students caught on quickly—within just weeks they were reading thousands of books and tens of thousands of pages. When the Spring Reading Madness tournament kicked off in March, we were more than ready to jump into the game. We set ambitious goals and captured the title with an eight-week tally of more than 17,000 books read and 3,000 hours spent reading. In fact, one student read more than 500 books and overall, the class read more than 2,000 books just during the competition.”
Ezzard continues, “It was wonderful to see our students put in the work to win. But it was even more powerful watching them make such rapid gains in reading fluency and comprehension—those are the lasting victories.”
The challenge: Improve Lexile® scores in a limited-resources environment
Atlanta Public Schools (APS) educates nearly 52,000 students at 98 learning sites. The district is home to more than 50 elementary schools, including the Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy—named to honor the highly decorated World War II African-American military pilots—that serves 650 pre-K–5 students.
Like many urban schools, TAG Academy is continually challenged to improve schoolwide Lexile scores and to help underperforming learners catch up to grade-level reading. Ezzard says educators routinely contend with a paucity of financial and parental support, outdated library resources, and the short attention spans of elementary students. “One of our solutions was to set up a dedicated, daily reading class. But our media specialist struggled to keep her young students engaged and interested for the full 45-minute session. Much of our content is more than ten years old. With today’s pace of change and innovation, that’s effectively obsolete. And this year, budget reductions made it impossible to purchase new books.”
APS first piloted myON in the summer of 2017, and in early 2018, provided districtwide access. Ezzard noticed immediate positive results, including increased student engagement and comprehension.
The results: More reading, improved scores, and expanded opportunities
Today, myON gives TAG Academy students unlimited access to a library of more than 13,000 digital books. Readers can log in at any time—typically, during English language arts and specialized reading blocks—from their classroom desktops and Chromebooks, as well as from devices in the school’s computer lab. TAG Academy educators also use myON in conjunction with Renaissance assessment and practice solutions. To track progress (including Lexile scores), APS teachers administer Renaissance Star Reading® assessments three times during the school year. Renaissance Accelerated Reader® makes it easy for students to toggle between myON books and associated Accelerated Reader quizzes and for educators to evaluate comprehension and progress towards personalized reading goals and skills mastery.
Ezzard continues, “In the past, students took two or three weeks to complete books checked out of the media center. Today, because they’re able to select books that match their interests and ability levels, they’re reading and completing more—a lot more. Within the first four months, one of our students finished 2,000 books and another read more than 10,000 pages. During the first week of Spring Reading Madness, students logged an amazing 895 reading hours. We’ve used other online literacy solutions, but myON is uniquely appealing to the eye and adept at drawing in the reader.”
“Students are also reading and comprehending higher-level books. We have first-grade students, for example, listening to third-grade books, taking the practice quizzes in myON, and then going on to score 100 on the more comprehensive Accelerated Reader quizzes. Accelerated Reader computes points based on the length and difficulty of books, and three of our classes have already increased their points by 10 to 20 percent. We’re also seeing growth in Lexile scores and expect that the reading stamina students are developing will boost their performance on state testing.”
Ezzard also foresees increased parent participation as they take advantage of myON family resources and as the school develops incentive and certificate programs based on achievement of myON and Accelerated Reader milestones.
Training, cheerleaders, and a pro football player
Asked about TAG Academy’s success with myON, Ezzard credits district-sponsored training to ensure the solution was implemented with fidelity, reading volunteers, and her own team of high-energy cheerleaders. “During one training session, we learned how to use the myON graphic organizers to build projects. Teachers can use them to customize classroom activities with differentiated reading lists or, for example, give students an assignment to create Venn diagrams for comparisons.”
Ezzard notes that TAG Academy reading specialists Jamika Solomon and Nikki Algernon Barlow were instrumental in the solution’s early success, working with teachers to set up access and monitor reading progress. They also helped students enter the myON Interest Inventory selections used to build personalized dashboards and make reading recommendations geared to individual interests.
Ezzard regularly invites local business leaders, parents, and other speakers to encourage and challenge students. Concurrent with Spring Reading Madness kickoff, Ezzard welcomed Malcolm Mitchell, a professional football player with the New England Patriots, for a reading session with her students. “High fives to Mitchell for being a hero on and off the football field,” applauds Ezzard. “He brought copies of his book for each student. Curled up on the floor around him, they were completely captivated, turning pages together and taking in his compelling message about the magic of reading.”
Doors to the world
“myON is a game changer for limited-resource schools like ours,” concludes Ezzard. “We’re providing up-to-date content without the costs of purchasing new or replacing damaged books. Students can read books that interest them—a new one every day, if they want. I love reading and want to make sure our students have access to the very best books that will expose them to the world beyond our neighborhood. myON makes that possible.”