In 2015, schools were given the chance to begin using a sophisticated data management system (or DMS) to track students in Reading Corps’ progress and outcomes, and now, schools will have the same opportunity to do so with students in Math Corps as a new Math Corps Data Management system (MCDMS) launches across Minnesota this fall.
email@example.comA New Data Management System for Math Corps Offers Increased Data Gathering Power
Remember the commercial, “There’s an app for that”? Math Corps tutors are about to start quoting it quite a bit as a new math app (which will eventually receive a more creative name) rolls out over the next school year.
The app was a natural way to help deliver math interventions, said Benjamin Swift, the information systems expert who has helped develop the new app for Math Corps.
firstname.lastname@example.orgMath Corps Students Get a New High-Tech Way to Boost Fact Fluency
Teaching was always a part of Bridget Neurohr’s plan. She was passionate about the work and had gotten into an early childhood education program. But eventually life got in the way and she put her educational goals on the back burner. Fortunately, Reading Corps has allowed her to make them a priority once again.
Prior to Reading Corps, Bridget was working as a home health aide. She was passionate about the mission and enjoyed her clients, but was ready for a change. It was time to look for something new.
At that time, her husband was working for the Minnesota Literacy Council. “He thought I’d be a great fit for that kind of work,” Bridget says. “We started looking for similar education-based programs and that’s when we found Reading Corps!”
After beginning her service, it didn’t take long for Bridget to realize that Reading Corps was exactly what she had been looking for. “I never have had a job where they value you as much as Reading Corps does,” she shares. “The organization builds you up to succeed through multiple levels of support. It’s just great to be a part of.”
As a tutor at Granada Huntley East Chain, Bridget conducts literacy-based interventions with her students every day. While it can be difficult work at times, she finds the end result so rewarding. For instance, last year she worked with a student who made it clear that he did not want to be in Reading Corps. She tried everything – new strategies, extra encouragement and incentives. Eventually, she made a breakthrough and he started to successfully complete the interventions. “At the start of our time together, he didn’t think reading was important,” Bridget says. “In the end, he just wanted more. Seeing that change in a student’s mindset is the best part about tutoring.”
While service allowed Bridget to make a difference in the lives of students, it opened doors for her as well. “Tutoring reminded me of where I wanted to be,” Bridget explains. “It reaffirmed my education goals and made it clear that I am meant to be a teacher.”
The education award allowed her to go back to school and she will complete her associate’s degree this fall. Bridget already has her sights on getting her teaching degree in the near future. We can’t wait to see what’s in store!
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Alyssa Tulloch wasn’t quite ready to head to college after graduating from Creative Arts Secondary School last fall. Instead, she decided to take a gap year. Lucky for us, she has chosen to spend that time with Minnesota Math Corps.
“My teacher told me about this opportunity,” Alyssa says. “He knew I love math and love working with kids.”
For Alyssa, it seems like the perfect fit. She can gain experience and save money for college while figuring out what she wants to do next. But for now, Alyssa is happily working with students at the very school she graduated from.
“I just love this school,” Alyssa shares. “It is truly an amazing community that gives students so many opportunities to be themselves. It’s great to be able to be here now, helping others.”
One of her favorite parts of service? The appreciation she receives.
“I think a lot of teachers appreciate me and what I do,” Alyssa explains. “When they don’t have enough time or resources, I can be the person who individually gives students extra support.”
Alyssa strives to make all of her students feel comfortable and confident while learning. She works hard to be seen as an authority figure, but also someone who students can relate to and trust. She says the trust and relationships she builds help her be a better tutor. “Not every student learns the same way,” she says. “I love being able to cater to their needs and make learning more accessible.”
At the end of the day, the most important thing to Alyssa is helping students succeed. “You use basic math everywhere,” she states. “It’s important that these students are confident in their math skills so they can excel in school and succeed in life.”
The Child Development Associate (CDA) Training Program offers a unique opportunity to gain experience and advance your career. As a part of this program, you’ll serve in a PreK setting as a Minnesota Reading Corps Tutor, while also earning you CDA at no cost to you!
The CDA credential is the most widely recognized credential in early childhood education. It increases the member’s knowledge of current best practices for educating young children and qualifies individuals for many types of assistant teacher and preschool roles,
“Openings of these types of positions across the metro are predicted to grow by 16% in the upcoming years,” explains Alison Zellmer, Program Pilots Manager. “This training program will ensure that our PreK sites are supported and provided with qualified employees.”
The credential is also a great starting point for those who are interested in pursuing an Early Childhood Education degree. It can act as a key stepping stone for career advancement.
As part of this program, you will receive 120 hours of free training to earn your CDA credential, plus a stipend of $455 every two weeks. You will also earn an education award (up to $3,047) and qualify for federal student loan forbearance and interest repayment.
Join us for an info session to get started. All sessions are held at the Center for Changing Lives, 2400 Park Ave S., Minneapolis MN 55405.
Literacy skills aren’t just built in schools and no one knows this better than members serving with Minnesota Reading Corps in Family Child Care.
“The Family Child Care program gives children a head start, teaching them skills like the ABC’s before they even start kindergarten,” explains Nou Thao, Program Pilots Manager. “It’s a unique service opportunity that gets our members out of the classroom and even more involved in the community,” she explains.
Instead of being placed at a school, members serving in with Minnesota Reading Corps in Family Child Care, travel between three sites where they deliver early literacy interventions and support to children in licensed family child care settings. Being part of this innovative project means building relationships with children, families and child care providers.
For Aurora Fields, Minnesota Reading Corps in Family Child Care was an opportunity to experience something new. “I got my experience with elementary students last year,” she says. “This year it’s about the little kids!”
During the week she travels between three family child care sites visiting two each morning. Aurora’s sites serve children who are five years old and younger – including infants and toddlers. As a mom, she especially loves the opportunity to learn interventions she can use with her own children at home.
Depending on the day and the site, Aurora may lead whole group, small group or one-on-one sessions in partnership with the licensed family child care provider. Her days with Reading Corps are typically wrapped up by early afternoon – which gives her the time and flexibility to focus on her family.
“Growing up, I had trouble with reading and comprehension,” Aurora says. “The support I needed wasn’t really available to me and it showed.” Minnesota Reading Corps in Family Child Care helps reach children during their first stages of development to address issues early.
Intentional and fun literacy instruction gives children the opportunity to talk, read, write and play. “I know that what we do as tutors works,” Aurora says. “It keeps kids engaged because they’re having fun while learning.”
Aurora shares that the best part of service is building relationships, and also notes it’s importance. “If you’re constantly surrounded by caring adults in your life, you can learn better. A child who is struggling really needs to know that someone cares. I’m glad I can be that person.”
Most Minnesota Reading Corps in Family Child Care members serve 25 hours a week and receive a stipend of $638 every two weeks. There are also emerging opportunities to serve fewer than 25 hours! Members also earn an education award (up to $3,047) and qualify for federal student loan forbearance and interest repayment.
There is currently a need for tutors in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. If you are interested in learning more, please visit readingandmath.net or contact Nou Thao at email@example.com.
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Suzanne PagelWe Love Family Child Care (and You Should Too!)
Peter Nelson, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and Innovation at ServeMinnesota, where he engages with programs including Reading Corps and Math Corps to ensure key principles of effective implementation and evidence-building occur. In this interview, we discussed how Nelson’s team was able to implement a new assessment strategy to help improve learning outcomes for students in Reading Corps.
Using Assessment to Understand a Problem
Reading Corps is a program that has been around for 15+ years in order to help younger elementary students read at grade level. The program’s tutors use different strategies, or interventions, to help the students. How do we assess how those students are doing?
Peter Nelson: In our K-3 Reading Corps model, we use brief measures of students’ literacy skill to get a sense of how they are doing across time. They practice during each session five days a week, but also complete the brief assessments once each week. Each score gets plotted on a graph. We compare those scores to what we call an aim line, which is line drawn from where they start in the fall to a benchmark in the spring linked to future college readiness and mastering proficiency.
When three of the last five weekly scores are above that aim line, and two of those scores are above the next benchmark, students are exited from the program. For example, if you exit in March, you need three data points above your goal line, two of which must be above a future spring goal. It’s a rigorous way to exit kids from receiving the extra support that Reading Corps provides.
We want to be confident that when we remove Reading Corps support, the student will stay on track and be successful.
What was the initial problem you were interested in?
For a few years, we knew there were kids who exited from Reading Corps but weren’t staying on track. You can look at the probability in the paper—we were seeing about 34 percent of students falling off track after an exit decision. To be clear, we were seeing that kids were much better off than they were previously, but many kids just weren’t maintaining a level of performance we’d hope for once Reading Corps support was discontinued.
So even though about 66 percent of kids were maintaining a great growth trajectory, we care a lot about the 34 percent that weren’t.
Weighing Difference Approaches
How did you figure out why this was happening?
We looked at a lot of factors to understand why we were seeing that drop off in performance after kids left Reading Corps.
We wondered, for example, if the point in time during the school year that kids exited the program impacted their long term growth. That didn’t explain it. We then looked at demographics of kids – race, gender and so on – and that wasn’t explaining much either.
Eventually, we started thinking less about predicting the drop off and more about whether changes to the decision guidelines would be useful. For example, we spent time thinking about, should we change our criteria for exit and make it more rigorous?
Would that be a good approach?
We didn’t see a lot of potential or return there. The yield turned out to not really be worth it, because any time you’re keeping kids in the program longer, you are keeping another kid out. A kid who then needs support isn’t getting it, when the student in the program is doing fine. So we ended up not really evaluating new exit criteria in practice.
So then we shifted our focus to think less about what happens before kids exit to what we could do after the exit.
Assessment as a Means to Solve the Problem
What did you wind up trying?
One thing we discussed was giving kids some extra practice after exit. We started thinking about the least invasive form of practice, which was conveniently already baked into the experiences of kids while they were in the program — each week during the intervention, tutors monitor progress of students using a short, minute-long assessment of reading fluency. So we thought why not just keep that going after the intervention? Progress monitoring is something that has been documented previously as something that can improve students’ academic achievement — but only by way of informing instruction or adapting to their needs. It’s never been discussed as something that is inherently beneficial.
If you think about progress monitoring as a task, though, kids are getting an opportunity to practice a skill that they’re being tested on at the end of the year. In this case, it is the exact skill – reading from a passage – they’re being tested on. They also are getting feedback on how they’re doing, and they’re getting a reminder of what the goal is for the end of the year.
These are really powerful things that we talk about in intervention – opportunity to respond, opportunity to engage in the task, and feedback. So that was our hypothesis – that continued progress monitoring after kids have exited Reading Corps could make a difference for long term outcomes.
You were able to test the hypothesis through a research pilot. What happened?
We saw a 10 to 14 percent increase in the probability of meeting the end-of-year benchmark among kids who got post-exit progress monitoring. This struck us as a really promising impact given the low level of time and resources involved.
This year, we are in the middle of a randomized control trial of post-exit progress monitoring – we have 100 sites, 50 of which will continue to monitor the progress of kids weekly after they exit from Reading Corps and 50 sites that are not doing that. It’s a really minor change to programming with a big potential payoff.
How were able to identify this issue and implement change so quickly?
We’re able to do it largely because we have infrastructure that supports innovation. It supports the analysis – we have pretty sophisticated data systems, where we know how kids are performing and growing, but we also know information about their experiences. We know how many minutes they’re getting, when they’re getting support, what exactly they’re doing, where they are geographically and what kind of tutors they’re working with. It’s a really rich dataset. Not a lot of folks in academia have access to that kind of data. It’s millions of cases and thousands of kids.
The other piece is we have this program that is serving all of these kids, and it’s still relatively nimble. In a year’s time, we can say, “We learned this, now let’s change this.” And there aren’t a lot of analogs to that. I don’t think in your typical education setting you can say, “We found this out, we’re going to make this change.” We can. In this case, we might just make it for a subgroup, but if we find out positive results this year, it’s something we can rapidly scale for everybody nationally, which is great.
What would it take to decide to rapidly scale that change nationally?
If we see ANY impact that is statistically significant, meaning that the kids who got post-exit progress monitoring in the randomized control trial this year were better off at the end of the year than similar kids who were not participating, that will be enough for us to make the change. If we see the same effect, that would be great. Even if it’s just 10 percent, that would be enough. Getting one additional student out of every 10 to meet their benchmark at the scale of thousands of kids, is something that’s notable.
firstname.lastname@example.orgThis Small Program Change is Helping Kids Maintain Their Progress
Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Julia Espe, Ed.D., who served as Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools from 2013 to her retirement in 2016. She currently works as a consultant for ServeMinnesota, the organization that oversees AmeriCorps programs for the state of Minnesota.
Reading Corps and Math Corps Are Vital Parts of Multi Tiered Systems
It is important for communities around the state to know that teaching and learning are seriously rocket science. That is, it is a complex system of creating the right environment of student engagement and challenging targets, knowing exactly what students need to learn to meet or exceed the targets, providing that teaching and learning experience for the student, assessing whether the student is making progress and starting the cycle again.
In the case of students who have difficulty learning, a whole new layer of rocket science is needed. Trained professionals need to identify the gaps or needs, provide a targeted intervention to relearn those, decide the approach that will help the learning to “stick,” make a determination how long and intensive the intervention needs to be given to the student and ascertain when the student is indeed meeting the target. Each child is different and has different needs, and teaching and learning has to adjust to provide those needs.
The Princeton School District has a system of Multi Tiered Systems of Supports, and Reading and Math Corps are vital parts of the interventions mentioned above. Title Programs provide additional supports for students in need of interventions. A program called ADSIS (Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services) delivers even more interventions for additional students. Students with the greatest needs receive special education services, which are the most expensive of all interventions.
Finally, teachers differentiate instruction for students as they provide instruction in the core curriculum. It is difficult for lay people to realize the science of teaching — in other words, rocket science — that helps students to learn. To the public, all of this may be invisible in a classroom. In order to put this system together, we need support from the state and federal funding that we currently receive.
Decrease in Specific Learning Disabilities
Princeton is a small school district with about 3,200 students PreK through grade 12. Like many districts in Minnesota, it does not have a data and research department. We took a simple approach to measuring cost savings of Reading and Math Corps to the district by looking at a three-year period (2005-2006 through 2007-2008) prior to implementing Reading and Math Corps.
During that time Princeton Public Schools averaged about 14 students with a Specific Learning Disability. Over the past nine years since we implemented Reading and Math Corps, the average number of students identified with a Specific Learning Disability has decreased to seven students — a decrease of 50 percent.
Reading Corps and Math Corps Save You Time
Special education in Minnesota follows a predictable process. Each school district is responsible for identifying children who are suspected of having a disability, beginning at birth, who attend public or nonpublic school and school age children who are not attending school. This system is commonly referred to as “child find.” The child find system should include the process for receiving referrals from parents, physicians, private and public programs, and health and human services agencies.
Before a school district refers a student for a special education evaluation, the district must conduct at least two research-based pre-referral interventions. A pre-referral intervention is a scientific research-based instructional strategy, alternative or intervention designed to address a student’s academic or behavioral needs in the general education classroom. The classroom teacher is responsible for implementing the first tier of interventions.
Tiered interventions outside of the general education classroom offer more intensive instruction to students who have not demonstrated marked improvement with general classroom supports. Reading Corps and Math Corps are just two of the many supports available to students in the Princeton district.
When a student is evaluated for special education services in the area of specific learning disabilities, multiple staff are required to participate in the evaluation process. For an initial evaluation, a special education teacher will spend roughly 15 hours gathering and reviewing data, evaluating the student, meeting with school staff and parents to review the results and generating a summary report of the information.
In addition, a school psychologist will contribute an additional five hours to the evaluation process. A general education teacher and school administrator will also contribute an additional hour as part of the evaluation. For every initial evaluation, licensed school staff are contributing a total of up to 20 hours to each individual evaluation. If the student qualifies for special education services, up to five more hours will be contributed before services can begin.
The most significant benefit of tiered interventions to the student is time. Research-based interventions such as those offered through Reading Corps and Math Corps do not require the time-intensive evaluations mandated by federal and state special education regulations and statutes. A data-driven analysis of formative assessment data allows general education teachers and interventionists to implement intensive instruction almost immediately.
When Reading Corps and Math Corps Increased, Fewer Special Ed Services Were Needed
Reading Corps and Math Corps services have been available to Princeton students for five years. Over the same period of time, the number of students requiring special education services has been declining — 23 fewer students over the same time period. This is a great cost savings. Here is a breakdown of the numbers:
Each student costs roughly $13,000 per year for specialized instruction.
This totals approximately $300,000 per year.
This equals approximately $1,500,000 in savings over five years.
In short, Reading Corps and Math Corps have not only helped our students to learn how to read and perform better in math, these programs have also saved our district in costs. Occasionally we hear that these programs may be reduced in support. They are supported through AmeriCorps funding. Our state legislators recently increased funding for the programs, and we thank them. Congress has supported our programming ever since its inception. As the federal government works on budget, we will continue to advocate for financing.
Not only do these programs work for our students. They also are cost-effective. And it’s very difficult to not to advocate for that.
email@example.comHow Reading Corps and Math Corps Can Offset Special Education Costs
Chelsea Smith had just started an intro to education course at Normandale Community College when she first heard about Reading Corps. Her professor had briefly mentioned it, explaining that a student had served in the past.
From the beginning, Chelsea’s interest was sparked. “I think what was most exciting was that I would have experience in a school before I even finished my teaching degree,” she says. “A lot of people don’t get that opportunity.”
After starting her service at Four Seasons A+ Elementary in St. Paul, Chelsea quickly realized that this was the perfect opportunity for a future educator. While serving, she learned how to teach each individual student based on their needs – a skill that is difficult to grasp when in a full classroom. She also made valuable connections with students, other tutors, teachers and administrators.
Through her service, Chelsea became more confident, built valuable skills to use in her future classroom and discovered she liked being part of a larger movement working for change. “I’ve never really had that before. I truly felt like I was a part of something, working towards a greater goal.”
To those who are considering service, Chelsea believes that it is important to be confident in yourself and your abilities. It can seem daunting at first, but I promise everything falls into place once you’re in the school and meeting students. It’s all worth it.”
After a year of service, Chelsea began her first year as a teacher at Four Seasons A+ Elementary School in September 2019. We are so proud of her!
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Suzanne PagelService Gives Future Teacher a Head Start
Reading Corps and Math Corps combine the people power of AmeriCorps and the science of learning to provide a solution to help narrow achievement gaps and help students become successful learners by the end of third and eighth grade.