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2012

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Intervening for success

Illiteracy dooms people to failure; literacy breeds success. This JMU professor helps schools learn how to intervene early to ensure students' success.

A JMU professor helps youngsters get the reading skills they need
By Harry Atwood (’87)

JMU professor Allison Kretlow working with elementary school students
Allison Kretlow, JMU professor of education, works on helping students use RtI methods to become happy readers.

Often schools with a substantial percentage of students who come from low socio-economic backgrounds find themselves in an uphill battle to meet educational objectives.

One JMU professor tackled the problem head-on. Allison Kretlow teaches RtI in her Specialized Reading Interventions EXED504 course. RtI, (Response to Intervention) is a research-based reading instruction method. According to the precepts of RtI, much of the deficits in reading abilities have more to do with the methods of teaching instruction than with the innate abilities of the students. Implementing research-based, best-practice methods in teaching reading and focusing on the specific needs of each individual student is key to success.

Fundamentals of good reading instruction are not unique to RtI. What makes RtI different and so effective is the strategy of diagnosing students early and often, and determining how much support each student needs. A three-tiered method is then employed based on each individual’s needs; students with the most needs are provided with Tier 3 support, which includes more time providing intensive support to smaller groups (usually one to three students) and more work with the teacher.

When one of Kretlow’s students, Rheannon Sorrells (’04, ’11M), asked her about implementing the method at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School where Sorrells taught first-grade, Kretlow was excited about the opportunity. Ressie Jeffries has a good number of students who come from low socio-economic backgrounds. In 2008, 246 of the school’s 500 students tested below grade level in reading. In 2009 the school failed to meet Annual Yearly Progress — the benchmark by which No Child Left Behind determines whether schools are classified as succeeding or failing. And, Ressie’s principal, Lisa Rudacille, was actively exploring new strategies for tackling the reading deficiencies at her school. Rudacille jumped on the opportunity to harness some expert advice, and a partnership was born.

Ressie Jeffries’ implementation of RtI was in every sense a team effort. And the team saw real results. Progress has been made at her school since Kretlow’s introduction of RtI. Some grade levels have seen a 50 to 61 percent reduction of students classified as Tier 3 readers. In fact, the work Kretlow did at Ressie was so effective that Warren County school officials requested that she help implement RtI in all five elementary schools. That process has already begun as Kretlow and former Ressie principal Lisa Rudacille teach a Specialized Reading Interventions course to 20 teachers, Title 1 reading coaches and district instructional leaders in Warren County through JMU’s Outreach Center through the College of Education.

Beyond the strategies and statistics are youngsters who are getting the reading skills they need. Even as they work through drills and boost their reading scores, they’re not preoccupied with thoughts of future personal and professional success. They’re happy to bask in the sheer joy that reading offers.

Learn more about the JMU College of Education at www.jmu.edu/coe/.

Read the full story in the Fall 2011 issue of Madison magazine.