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News from September 2016

New initiative to create reading comprehension intervention tailored to students with autism
September 12, 2016

MCPER is partnering with the University of California, Riverside, on a project to create a reading comprehension intervention specifically designed for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The project, Reading Enhancements for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders (Project READ), received a $1.5 million federal grant, which will enable investigators to develop and test the intervention at elementary and middle schools in Texas and Southern California over a 3-year period.

The project’s investigators include Sharon Vaughn and Colleen Reutebuch of MCPER and Michael Solis, an assistant professor of special education at UC Riverside, who is also formerly of MCPER.

“The reading intervention takes into account many of the unique challenges of providing reading instruction to students with ASD by using interest-based text,” Solis told UCR Today. “Once students are more motivated to read about their interest area they are much more likely to be engaged and open to learning new skills that will help improve their ability to understand what they read.”

ASD is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States, where it affects 1 in 68 children, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014.

Educators and parents have long expressed concern over the lack of proper reading instruction for children with ASD. Solis said he believes the problem stems from inadequate research on the topic, which he found was explored in only 12 studies over the last 3 decades.

For more information, visit Project READ's project page

Tags: Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute  Reading Enhancements for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders 

Pilot Point Middle School sees significant increase in STAAR scores
September 9, 2016

After working with the Texas Literacy Initiative to set higher expectations and put a greater emphasis on making data-driven decisions, Pilot Point Middle School saw a significant increase in its STAAR scores from 2015 to 2016.

In grade 8, the pass rate for the reading portion of the STARR jumped from 77% in 2015 to 89% in 2016. For students from lower socioeconomic status, the pass rate increased from 70% to 83%. Most notably, however, for English as a second language (ESL) students, the pass rate increased from 30% to 82% (see the table below).

The principal at Pilot Point Middle School, Dustin Toth, credited this increase in test scores to the hard work of his students, teachers, and staff.

In addition, he said, his teachers received invaluable assistance from Regina Wheat, an instructional coach who receives funding from the Texas Literacy Initiative, and Michelle Lambert-Yuhasz, a Texas Literacy Initiative state literacy liaison.

“Each time [Lambert-Yuhasz visited] our campus, I would try to get as much feedback as I could on our programs and identify what changes we needed to make to keep our campus moving forward,” Toth said.

Some of the changes contributing to Pilot Point’s successful test scores included a new campuswide vocabulary initiative, a move away from a pullout ESL program to one allowing students to be in a regular reading class each day, and the introduction of a special STAAR reading class for students in need of more intensive reading support.

“A major key to our success was the collaboration between our students and teachers,” Toth said, explaining how teachers not only took time to review assessments with their students, but also had their students set goals for subsequent tests and develop plans of action to achieve those goals while monitoring progress along the way.

A general education teacher, a special education teacher, an ESL teacher, a counselor, the principal, and an instructional coach reviewed the data and then developed appropriate intervention plans. Finally, identified strengths and weaknesses were discussed at grade-level meetings to look at the ways individual teachers could boost specific objectives and foundational skills in their class.

“Needless to say, we are excited about the direction our campus is headed,” Toth said. “It has been a total team effort and we can’t wait to keep moving forward next year.”

STAAR Grade 8 Reading Scores
  Satisfactory Advanced
  2016 2015 2016 2015
All Students 89 77 21 17
Economically Disadvantaged 83 70 17 11
Limited English Proficient 70 27 0 0
English as a Second Language 82 30 0 0

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative