Ed Tech Case Study

By the Book: Exploring One School's Success with a Technology-Based Reading Program

A Texas elementary principal introduces her school to a technology program that she credits with boosting test scores and school ratings.

Pam Howard is no stranger to technology-based reading programs. In fact, this principal believes in such applications so much that she brings them with her when she takes on positions at new schools. For example, when she accepted the position of principal at Burleson Elementary in El Paso, TX, in 2008, Howard knew it wouldn't be long before a high number of the school's 337 students would be shifting to a technology-based reading program she'd previously used at other schools.

Howard credits the program's track record with creating that loyalty. A principal for the last 10 years, Howard said she's used Lexia Reading with at least three different schools, all of which benefited from the implementation, based on her observations. "A couple of years ago I was principal at a larger school with a high Hispanic population," said Howard. "I introduced the reading program, which I'd already been using successfully [with all grades] at another school."

The Web-based Lexia Reading includes three different levels (early reading, primary reading, and strategies for older students) and is designed to help students acquire and improve foundational reading skills. The application includes monitoring capabilities that instructors can use to assess student progress and react accordingly.

"This reading program provides another way for teachers to target specific areas of learning," said Howard. The school is using the application for all students in first through fifth grades right now, with each child using the program in 30-minute increments and four to five days per week.

When the initial need arose for a program that would help improve students' reading scores, Howard said, she shopped around and considered various solutions. She said she selected Lexia based on how easy it was to use and the fact that it was centered on the Web. Howard said she also liked the fact that the program didn't come with a lot of "gee whiz" bells and whistles that other solutions were touting.

"I noticed early on that this program just got to the point, and that it remained consistent and positive in a way that would really appeal to kids," said Howard, who was limited by budgetary constraints when it came to implementing the program across multiple schools. "At the larger school district where I was principal, I could only use the reading program on a limited basis because we didn't have the funds to buy it and use it district-wide."

Howard said the program has proved especially useful with students for whom English is not their first language. By working with the reading solution for the pre-determined 2.5 hours every week, Howard said, her school's Spanish-speaking students have been able to post gains not only on reading test scores, but math and science as well.

"It bumps students up and gives them the background knowledge that they need to improve their reading fluency," said Howard, whose school has posted significant gains in state test scores since implementing the Web-based reading program. "We saw some remarkable gains; I know a good deal of that improvement had to do with Lexia."

For example, Howard said Burleson Elementary improved from a 38 percent pass rate in reading in 2007 to a 94 percent pass rate in 2008. Math and writing scores also improved, as did the school's scale scores (which include math, science, and reading). "The pass rate in Texas was at 2100 points in 2008, and our average pass rate was 2280 last year; 2300 is considered college-ready," Howard explained.

Burleson Elementary's commendable ratings also rose last year, increasing from 10 percent to 39 percent. "I don't think it was simply the teaching--which was already in place here--that resulted in the increased percentage," said Howard. "Our new reading program had a significant impact on those increases."

For Howard, getting teachers onto the Lexia bandwagon isn't always easy, even when the school's reading scores are below par. "I'm fortunate to come into the kind of schools where there is a definite need for improvement," said Howard, who said she prefers to use classroom-based computers whenever possible but has had to settle for computer labs at her current school.

"I've been able to create some consistency with these labs, where the students are scheduled for daily instruction," said Howard. Depending on the individual student's needs, teachers decide whether that instruction is to be given in English or Spanish.

When the sessions are finished, teachers access the Web-based program to check on each student's progress. If, for example, a student scores low on a "silent e" quiz, then the instructor knows to teach that a specific lesson in class and/or via the reading program.

"To get teachers to buy into the tech-based program, you must create an environment where all they really have to do is review and use the reports," said Howard. "By taking as much of the management as possible off of the teachers' shoulders, we've been able to get a high adoption and use rate."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].