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Bluffs summer reading program produces results
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Bluffs summer reading program produces results

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The Council Bluffs Community School District’s summer reading program is helping to improve students’ reading skills, an outside expert told the district’s board of education Tuesday.

The school district has partnered with the Iowa Reading Research Center, based at the University of Iowa College of Education, for the past four years to improve reading instruction and achievement. Thus, the summer session has become an opportunity for research.

The summer reading program is a six-week session for students who have just completed kindergarten through fourth grade who are at risk of not attaining grade-level proficiency, according to Corey Vorthmann, chief academic officer for the school district. Students work on reading for three hours each morning and have an opportunity to participate in field trips or other activities in the afternoon.

“Without the help of the Iowa West Foundation and the 21st Century Learning Center grant, these programs would not be possible in Council Bluffs Community School District,” he said.

Summer instruction for elementary students, which started in 2010, has also included math and science but has primarily focused on reading, according to board materials.

Center Director Deborah Reed and her team evaluated the program. Reed explained the evaluation in a video presentation, since she was unable to attend the board of education’s meeting Tuesday.

She said the school district has become better organized on the reading program and delivery has improved. She can tell that the district uses the program to seriously evaluate how it teaches reading.

The number of students who qualify for the session has been falling since 2015, which resulted in the elimination of one class section this year, Reed said, calling that “an accomplishment in itself.”

The number of students who qualified for the program was down 50% this year, said Carly Gates, coordinator of summer learning for the district, after the video.

“It was a huge decline, so we were happy to see that,” she said.

Overall, students are improving over the summer, although the improvement is not always statistically significant, Reed said.

Although the summer program can influence students’ growth during the break, the center found that instruction during the schoolyear makes more difference, even in spring-to-fall improvement.

Fidelity of implementation of the curriculum — how well teachers follow it — made a difference in improvement, Reed said.

“The classes that had the better fidelity did see a bigger improvement,” Gates said.

After the first three weeks, she talked to Reed and “tweaked” a few things to improve fidelity, Gates said.

“We’ve seen an increase in fidelity to some components,” Reed said.

Overall, the summer session produced “very positive results,” Reed said. Tracking improvement during the summer session helps the district target needed areas during professional development, she said.

“While sometimes not statistically significant, we did see improvement across all grade levels,” Vorthmann said after the video.

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