Amanda Wilson, Dyslexia Interventionist at Beard Elementary, works with 3rd and 4th grade students.
How did Ft. Smith Public Schools in Arkansas fare during a pandemic-related school year? For its struggling readers and students with dyslexia, they beat the odds and increased their skills in reading. They did not experience widespread learning loss like so many disadvantaged students throughout the country.
Since 2017, the district has implemented the Seeing Stars and Visualizing and Verbalizing programs for grades K-2 and for struggling readers in any grade. The programs were also used to meet their dyslexia intervention needs. Over 300 teachers have received training and coaching in the programs, provided by Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes.
Following the abrupt shut down of schools in March of 2020, gaps in phonemic awareness did initially widen compared to prior years, as measured by the district’s IStation universal screener at the start of the 2020-21 school year. Despite the serious instructional challenges they faced during the school year, the district provided high-dosage intervention for 521 students with dyslexia.
Teachers accelerated student learning to get these students back on track. With just 57 hours of instruction in the Seeing Stars program (a minimum of 120 hours is recommended), students made significant growth in key components of reading, including phonemic awareness, phonics (word attack), word recognition, and orthographic processing (symbol imagery), as shown in the table below.
“It was so encouraging (to see) the number of students that we had who were making significant gains,” shared Todd Marshall, Principal of Chaffin Junior High. “I’m talking about almost ‘hard to believe’ the grade levels that they were making up by participating in this program and the rate at which they were making progress.”
Unlike many structured literacy approaches that focus predominantly on phonological processing, Seeing Stars systematically integrates phonemic awareness AND orthographic processing. This helps students become more fluent readers. For students in Ft. Smith Public Schools, instruction has accelerated their learning during what is likely the most challenging school year they will ever experience.