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The City Journals

Access to technology equals reading improvement at Crescent Elementary

Nov 27, 2019 08:16AM ● By Julie Slama

Crescent Elementary students log into Lexia Core 5 in a concerted effort to improve their reading skills. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Crescent Elementary fourth-grader Alex Martinez logged into the Chromebook, pulled up Lexia Core 5 and started reading sentences.

“I read them, then answer the questions,” Alex said. “Fluency is difficult for me, but this is helpful.”

His teacher, Cindy Carling, said all her fourth-graders can make progress by using Core 5. However, last year the school piloted the opportunity to check out Chromebooks to 17 students, including Alex, who didn’t have access to a computer.

“It made a huge difference,” she said. “He made tons of progress.”

Alex agrees: “It’s helpful for me to catch up to the class, and I can practice this at home,”

This year, Crescent Elementary is extending the computer check-out to any student who needs them or a hot spot at home, Principal Camie Montgomery said.

“Last year, we checked Chromebooks out to families that had internet and those children ranged two to six levels behind in their reading and comprehension,” she said. “Instead of asking our students to do homework, we have them work on Core 5 and interventions to fill in the holes in their academics and help bridge the gaps to get them caught up.”

Montgomery said that with the support at home and interventions at school with teachers and aides, students advanced two to four levels in their reading.

“We had one student who tested at a pre-K level and couldn’t complete the first level sounds, (then) end up blending compound words and test at a fifth-grade level. The program is individualized so once the student learns the material and passes that set of skills, they move on,” she said.

Students first take a placement test, which places them on their level, from 1 to 18. Then they learn skills for the appropriate level such as fluency, prefixes and suffixes, understanding the meaning of words, combining Greek forms of words and comprehension.

Alex now is studying on level 17, right on his fifth-grade level, his teacher said.

“Many students couldn’t practice or do this at home without a computer or internet. It was incredible to see the difference when students were given the technology,” she said.

Teachers monitor students’ progress. If a student is stuck on a certain component, the program alerts instructors, who can work with the student. Small group instruction fills in gaps as well. 

“I look at it every day and they know I do; there’s accountability,” said the school’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. “I look at it in the morning and at night and see if they need any extra work. These are my kids and I want every one of them to succeed. Core 5 is helping decode where they need help and they’re getting faster and more accurate help to improve their fluency, accuracy and comprehension.”

Carling also assigns classroom mentors to help struggling students.

“It builds self-confidence for both students. When they’re in class, they can work on it and ask their buddy next to them a question if they don’t understand, and for the kid mentors, they get a sense of pride when their friend succeeds,” she said.

Carling said the program also gives her information such as how long a student is on a level as well as when they are projected to be on target.

“This is something students must invest in as much as the teacher,” she said. “We don’t have homework, but we want them to do the extra practice. We celebrate our successes where I’ll announce who passes a level and everyone claps. I’ll reward them with classroom cash and they can purchase items I have here, but they’re finding it more rewarding to pass off the levels. Every time they do, I give them a certificate and put up a yellow star. When they pass out of Core 5, they get a gold star.”

However, after passing out of Core 5, students retake the test. Oftentimes, Carling said, they test back a level, so students complete it and work their way back to the end. As of early November, five of Carling’s 26 students have tested out of the Core 5 and four have been placed again after retesting. 

Fourth-grader Teagan Toole just retested back to level 16, which means she will redo the skills sets to ensure her ability to complete the program at level 18.

Classmate Dexter Tonks just completed Core 5.

“I like Core 5,” he said. “There are different levels and it tracks those as well as the minutes I’m on it. I tried to get better so I could pass off more the levels. Passage comprehension was hard. I thought I’d get it, but I didn’t. Then, I realized I was misreading the questions so when I did it again, I was able to do it right.”

Dexter said that he’d take his certificates home and his mother would keep them in a file for him.

“I looked back and saw that I passed and it motivated me,” he said.

Montgomery said the checkout process came about while looking at their struggling population.

“We realized that many of these students may not have technology in their homes,” she said.

Last year’s computer checkout focused on English language learners and special education learners. This year, with the technology available to anyone, there already have been 10 Chromebooks and eight hot spots checked out. The technology has been acquired through grants awarded to Canyons School District, she said.

However, Montgomery said the checkout has the expectations that students will practice Core 5 for 80 minutes per week. Students also can practice programs such as Reflex math, iReady, Nitrotype and Imagine Learning on the computers as well as other uses.

“These students are making so many gains with having the technology at home and practicing,” she said. “Some students aren’t reading at home, but this is a new day and it’s a new way of instruction. There are so many ways to learn and this is one we’re seeing great success with. All we’re asking is for parents to allow students time to practice, and when they do, they’ll fill in their gaps of learning.”