Davenport Teachers Apply New Practices to Old Methods

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The Davenport Community School District is digging deeper into how students learn after the Iowa Department of Education's State Report Card showed the District didn't make the mark under federal standards from the No Child Left Behind Act.

J.B. Young Intermediate has been on the "Schools in Need of Assistance" List for the last 9 school years. While teachers say those math and reading assessments are helpful, the standardized tests are only part of the proficiency picture.

Every word we say - just like every student we see - is different. So when it comes to learning - and teaching - how to read, Davenport's classrooms are going back to the basics.

"In order for a student to read, they really need to understand the way that the language works and that can be very difficult," says Beth Evans, the District's Reading and Language Arts Specialist.

Beth says they're teaching teachers to use L.E.T.R.S. (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling), which is a new knowledge-base on a not-so-new method - phonics.

"Without that, the other pieces of reading - the fluency, the comprehension and the understanding of vocabulary - just don't exist," says Becky Bender, a teacher with J.B. Young Intermediate.

On Thursday, October 3rd, 2013, Ms. Bender showed News 8's Angie Sharp how they're applying L.E.T.R.S. to a new program called the 95 Percent Group. (Watch the video clip above to see how it works.)

But it's more than just vowels and syllables, the program screens students to find out who is having problem and figures out exactly what those problems are and which lesson plans will fix them.

"If they have students who are struggling to read, it's going to give them insight into where the disconnect is taking place," says Beth.

"We now have the tools to really dig in and really pinpoint that area and then give kids direct instruction in that area," says Ms. Bender.

Ms. Bender says she's seen a lot of positive change in students. In fact, the District is exceeding the national average in reading -- as well as math -- this year.

As far as the State Report Card goes, Beth says it's another reminder to take every student - just like every word - one step at a time.

"It's hard to say - no we don't want to be 100% proficient, no we don't want all of students to read - but then we also have to look at our starting point. Where did we start? If we started very far from 100%, we need to celebrate all of our growth along the way."

L.E.T.R.S. and the 95 Percent Group is also being applied in the District's elementary schools and even high schools. Beth also says that in the last two years, the District has made sure every building has a full-time Reading Intervention Specialist to work with struggling students.