A focus on literacy

Online Lexia program discussed, thesis on program effectiveness at Lenihan approved

Student literacy was a central topic at the Marshalltown School Board meeting Monday evening, and data shows that an online program is helping students find success at school.

“This is an online program that provides literacy instruction for all students in K-6, and we’re considering adding preschool this spring,” said district preschool-sixth grade Curriculum Leader Erica Finders of Lexia Reading Core5. “Students move through this at their own pace.”

She said data collected as of Jan. 28 showed good signs for students using the program.

“With all the students that have been working on Lexia, we started the year with 33 percent of them working two grade levels or more below,” Finders said, gesturing to a presentation slide in the board room. “Currently, at this point of the school year, as of January 28, there were 12 percent of students working at that level.”

She added that, as of Monday, 201 Lenihan Intermediate School fifth grade students had completed the program. Finders said Lexia may soon be offered at the preschool level as well.

Also discussed was the launch of Lexia’s PowerUp adolescent literacy program at Miller Middle School.

“It operates, from a student perspective, somewhat similar to Core5, except it looks much more middle school-high school appropriate,” said district 7-12 Curriculum Leader Pam Brewer-Michael of PowerUp. “[Monday] was the launch date, students started their prescriptive testing, and they will be placed into the program based on the results of that particular assessment.”

She said once assessed, students will be placed into one of three zones: foundational, intermediate or advanced. Additionally, she said PowerUp focuses on word study, grammar and comprehension.

Another discussion around Lexia came when Lenihan fifth- and sixth grade English language learning (ELL) instructor Joan Furjanic requested board approval of her thesis, titled “The Effects of Lexia Reading Core5 on 5th and 6th Grade English Language Learners’ Academic Reading Achievement.”

The board of five gave unanimous approval. Board Vice President Janelle Carter and member Ross Harris were not at Monday’s meeting.

Before approving the thesis, Board President Bea Niblock said Furjanic must secure parent permission for the 37 students to be involved in the study.

District Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson gave a review of the first semester of the 2017-18 school year.

“We’re still focusing on chronically absent students, and keeping those percentages low, or lower then they have been in the past, not to exceed 15 percent,” she said. “Initial … state reporting in Iowa that I had uploaded did not indicate that we were trending in the right direction with our absenteeism.”

According to the data shared Monday, Marshalltown Learning Academy and Marshalltown High School have the highest percentage of chronically absent students in the district, at over 60 percent and over 20 percent, respectively.

In this context, “chronically absent” means a student who is on-track to miss 18 or more days of school this year.

Stevenson also reported 17 total harassment or bullying referrals from throughout the district as of January, with 9 of those coming in the first quarter of the current school year.

Stevenson expressed confidence in the district’s K-6 reading proficiency progress, despite a drop in student proficiency from fall to winter of 52 percent to 48 percent, according to the FAST proficiency screening.

“I would’ve liked to have seen positive growth from fall to winter, but it’s not easy to move a system this big,” she said, adding this year’s fall and winter figures have improved from the 2016-17 school year. “Given the mobility of our students and the amount of teacher turnover and the other things that we, just as a system, have to work through, growth is good, and … I see us trending in the right direction.”

Anson Elementary School students also got to show off some of their work and activities from class. The board and audience were treated to a showcase of a guitar-inspired coding project, a dance routine, trivia on civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and some yoga poses, all performed by students of various grade levels.

The next Marshalltown School Board meeting is set for 5 p.m. Monday, March 5 at the Central Administration Office, 1002 S. 3rd Ave.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com