Northampton Hopes Level Literacy Intervention Will Boost Middle School Reading Skills

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By Stefanie Jackson-  Northampton Middle School Principal Ron Yorko met with the Northampton school board on Sept. 27 to explain his plan for schoolwide implementation of the Level Literacy Intervention in what he called “an all hands on deck approach” to improve student reading skills.

The larger goal is for Northampton Middle School to surpass its current state accreditation rating of “accredited with conditions” and achieve the top rating of “accredited.” The school division’s other three schools, Northampton High School, Kiptopeke Elementary School, and Occohannock Elementary School (where Yorko was the principal last year) are all currently accredited.

English teachers, special education teachers, and others will collaborate to make the initiative successful and engage students in an extra 45 minutes of reading every day that will happen during fifth period English skills classes.

Yorko recommends the Level Literacy Intervention because unlike other supplemental materials for improving reading skills, LLI is not a computer program, but puts “real books in kids’ hands,” he said.

He wanted to clear up the misconception that the Level Literacy Intervention is only for elementary school students. In the LLI program, reading levels correspond to the letters of the alphabet, with A as the lowest level and Z as the highest for elementary school through middle school. High school and adult-level reading levels are categorized as Z+.

There are several other Virginia school divisions that use the Level Literacy Intervention at the middle school level, including Hanover County, which implemented an LLI initiative in grades K to 8.

According to Yorko’s research, the two “most methodically rigorous, independent studies of LLI found that students in LLI intervention groups made statistically significant improvements” on a variety of assessments “compared to students in control groups who receive no literacy intervention.”

The Level Literacy Intervention is recommended by the Literacy Collaborative committee, with members from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., and The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The Literacy Collaborative is based on the work of educators, researchers, and authors Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.

The Literacy Collaborative is defined as a “comprehensive literacy reform model” for providing, in addition to a “good first teaching, multiple layers of intervention” that “are theoretically aligned and research-based.” LLI is recommended as an appropriate literacy intervention for use in small groups.

One obstacle Northampton Middle School must overcome is that staffing is limited, so LLI activities must be done with groups of eight students instead of four, the ideal small group size for the intervention to be most effective, Yorko said. To help mitigate that issue, Yorko said students will be grouped by reading level. For example, students on reading levels H and I would be grouped together.

School board members Randy Parks and Jo Ann Molera suggested that “high-functioning” Northampton High School students could be brought in to assist with small-group reading instruction.

Yorko did not give Parks and Molera a hard “no,” but he was hesitant to approve the suggestion because the high school students have no background or training in literacy intervention, he said.

LLI assessment training was done at the end of September and the assessment was scheduled to be completed this week. Next week, students in English skills classes will be regrouped according to their LLI reading levels, and the new reading program will start Oct. 15.

After three weeks, the middle school’s LLI team will meet to discuss individual student progress and problem solve for any student who has not shown improvement.

Yorko recommended the Level Literacy Intervention over Read 180, the reading program previously endorsed by the school board. Researchers suggest Read 180 must be used in 90-minute blocks to be effective, and the minimal amount of reading improvement achieved is not worth the cost.