Representatives from the Lindamood- Bell Learning Process met with Macon County board members, teachers, and school officials last Thursday to discuss a summer training program that resulted in significant progress for students.
The program worked so well that several students were now testing proficient in areas of reading and comprehension that they had previously tested below average.
According to Matthew Gardner, regional manager of School Partnerships for the California-based company, the program was implemented at East Franklin over a four week period. A group of 54 students and 17 teachers received 4 hours of intensive classroom instruction daily. “The goal of the summer school program wasn’t just achievement in the summer, but training teachers how to educate students how to read,” Gardner said.
Dr. Robert Pasternack emphasized the importance of the program in Macon County. “I believe that everyone has a right to high-level education,” said Pasternack.
Pasternack served as Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services for the U.S. Department of Education under the Bush administration and is a loyal advocate for the Lindamood- Bell Program and its efforts to increase literacy amongst our nation's children.
According to Pasternack, “we spend the first years of our lives learning to read and the rest of the time reading to learn,” which is why what the Lindamood-Bell Program is doing is so crucial. Pasternack has experienced education from all angles; beginning his career as a teacher before transitioning to the administrative side of things by taking on the role of superintendent. His resume more than qualifies him to speak to the importance of literacy of all categories of children.
While Pasternack was working for the Bush administration he learned that 7 million students receive special education in the U.S., and according to Pasternack, the majority of individuals who are classified as having a disability actually have none. Instead, they have problems associated with poverty and have been written off by society at large.
Pasternack noted that statistics prove that 33 percent of third grade students are already reading and 33 percent of children will learn to read regardless of what core program a school chooses to implement, leaving the remaining 33 percent of students that will undoubtedly struggle and the group of children the Lindamood-Bell program targets. The program is so important because according to Pasternack, “in 2009, 37 percent of our nation’s kids were reading below their intended level,” he said. “It’s our job to teach these kids,” Pasternack continued.
Although the program was held at East Franklin, the group was comprised of students and teachers from different schools in Macon County. Students ranged from first graders, to those entering ninth grade. The program targeted students who had experienced reading challenges. Of the 54 students who participated, 37 percent were female and 63 percent were male.
This summer Macon County was able to experience two of the programs that Lindamood- Bell offers. The programs, “Seeing Stars” and “Visualizing and Verbalizing” focused on decoding based and comprehension problems respectively.
According to Paul Worthington, Co-Director of Professional Development for the Lindamood-Bell Learning Process, explained that the program’s intent is not to offer some state-of-the-art miracle instruction but instead, to focus on implementing current practices with the addition of training geared toward identifying learning disabilities. “We’re very excited to work with you as you work with your kids,” said Worthington.
Thirty-nine students participated in the decoding focused program for a total of 60 instructional hours. Students exhibited significant standard score increases. Students increased in each of the three areas of focus which included, Phoneme awareness, Symbol Image, and Word attack. According to the results, students who once struggled and tested below average in the areas of focus had demonstrated significant progress at the end of the 60- hour program, so much so that several students were now testing proficient and within the state average. Worthington reiterated the importance of these findings by urging, “so far we’re only talking about one little summer school experience.”
The program delivered similar results for the comprehension focused program. Although the comprehension group only had 15 students, they still turned out impressive numbers. Implementing a focus on comprehension, oral directions, and vocabulary, the program showed signs of improving in each area.
Teachers received a week of training in conceptual teaching throughout all levels of instruction. Instead of taking students out of core classes and attempting to utilize a differentiated program to meet the specific special needs of students, the Lindamood-Bell program is geared toward training teachers in a “research validated” methodology allowing them to promote literacy within core classes. “I’m extremely pleased, not only with the students’ growth, but the growth that the teachers have made also,” Gardner said.
Worthington noted that the program can only be successful if it receives community support, and according to Worthington Macon County welcomed the Lindamood- Bell program with more support and excitement than he had seen anywhere else.
The summer program costs about $50,000 for materials and program fees and an additional estimated $80,000 in teacher pay for the 17 teachers that volunteered for the program. According to Carol Waldroop, head of Macon County School’s Elementary Curriculum and Instruction, the program is extremely valuable to the community. “The program is so valuable to us because the teachers who participated will be able to use that training for the next few years and every student who has them as teachers will benefit.”
Gardner will return to Macon County on Monday, Aug. 22, to discuss what the next step would be in continuing the program within the county’s school system. In the event an agreement is made to continue the program, Lindamood-Bell would work with Macon County to develop a curriculum, continue to train teachers in the system with the intentions of certifying teachers to train others within the system.
According to Waldroop, the Board of Education is currently working with Lindamood-Bell to work up a quote to continue the program in Macon County.
Waldroop noted that a program in Macon County would be viewed as a pilot program, being the first in North Carolina, and would call for the county to receive a substantial discount on the costs associated with implementing the program.