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Television news feature on Write for Texas project highlights student gains
November 22, 2016

In an education segment on ABC News 7 Amarillo, Write for Texas participants described the positive impact the project has had on their students' writing.

Andrea DeCarlo, a teacher at Dumas High School; Nikole Foote, an instructional coach at Dumas; and Cassie Swan, program contact at Education Service Center Region 16, reported that students are less afraid to put their ideas into written form—a common issue in the past. “We are seeing kids actually put their thought process into writing now in math, science, and social studies—not just English,” Foote said.

Swan added that writing in all subject areas and using supports like sentence stems and other techniques promoted by Write for Texas are all part of an effort to “make sure all of our kids write for life.”

View the video and read the accompanying article on the ABC News 7 website.

Write for Texas 

Project STRIVE making an impact on Texas teachers and students
November 2, 2016

MCPER’s Strategies for Reading Information and Vocabulary Effectively (STRIVE) project is collaborating with school districts in Central and South Texas to provide professional development and research-based instructional materials to fourth-grade teachers.

Over the course of the large-scale, 3-year research study, more than 200 fourth-grade teachers from more than 80 schools will receive training on practices to improve reading and social studies knowledge, reaching more than 5,000 students.

To date, fourth-grade teachers from 25 elementary schools have attended interactive training on the STRIVE lessons in preparation for implementing the practices in their classrooms this year. Anchored to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the STRIVE lessons incorporate evidence-based reading practices targeting reading comprehension, vocabulary, and social studies content knowledge. In addition to the initial training, STRIVE teachers participate in several follow-up study team meetings to reflect on and discuss instructional practices.

Teachers are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. "I am already seeing positive changes in my students," said Emi Anderson, a fourth-grade teacher at Hirsch Elementary School in San Antonio. “The program has improved their ability to share and constructively question their classmates' ideas. My students are using the STRIVE reading and collaborative learning skills in other subjects, too."

Building on a prior Institute of Education Sciences Goal 2 intervention development grant, MCPER researchers will measure and compare the effects of STRIVE relative to a control condition to examine the efficacy of the professional development. The large number of students participating provides strong statistical power and reliability.

In the meantime, those involved with the program suggest that STRIVE is having a positive impact. "There is really a positive buzz about STRIVE in San Antonio ISD,” said District Administrator Ramses Escobedo. “The teachers participating in the project have said it is going well, and additional schools have asked to participate in STRIVE next year."

For more information, visit the STRIVE project page.

Tags: Reading Institute  Strategies for Reading Information and Vocabulary Effectively (STRIVE) 

Texas Literacy Initiative partner district Nixon-Smiley finds success
November 1, 2016

The Nixon-Smiley school district was highly successful in meeting goals set in 2012 as part of its partnership with the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI), according to the district's fourth and final initiative report.

“Leadership across the district have worked together to implement all facets of the initiative to ensure that the goals were met and that STAAR test scores increased across the board since 2012,” said Texas Literacy Initiative State Literacy Liaison Michelle Lambert-Yuhasz.

The only goal that was not entirely met pertained to increasing the percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency on STAAR English language arts assessments in grades 3 through 12. However, students improved greatly over the 4-year period, meeting four of the five goals in this reporting period compared to just one of five in the first reporting period.   

The five TLI goals are (1) to increase oral language and preliteracy skills of preschool children; (2) to increase the performance of students in kindergarten through grade 2 on early reading assessments; (3) to increase the percentage of students who meet or exceed proficiency on STAAR tests in grades 3 through 12; (4) to increase the use of data and data analysis to inform all decision-making across the district, in campuses, in classrooms, and in early learning settings; and (5) to increase the implementation of effective literacy instruction through literacy lines.   

Campus administrators were pleased with the initiative’s transformative effects, according to the report, and highlighted a number positive changes, including (1) data sharing to inform instruction and identify student needs, (2) integration of assessment data into the district's response to intervention system, and (3) promotion of professional relationships between district staff and instructional personnel to increase academic outcomes.

“The administration at the campus levels have backed the initiative saying that this will be an expectation for our students to be producing writing pieces in all content areas," according to a particiapant quoted in the report. "It is not only a tested skill, but also a lifelong skill for jobs, and college. The administration has been very supportive in backing that plan and setting those expectations for teachers that they are all on board with helping facilitate writing in all classrooms.”

Goal Outcomes Met in Each Reporting Period

  Period 1 Period 2 Period 3 Period 4
Goal 1: Preliteracy Skills yes yes yes yes
Goal 2: K–2 Fluency Skills yes yes yes yes
Goal 3: STAAR Performance: Reading (Grades 3 to 8)     yes yes
             STAAR Performance: Writing (Grades 4 and 7) yes yes yes yes
             STAAR Performance: English I Reading       yes
             STAAR Performance: English I Writing   yes yes yes
             STAAR Performance: English II Reading        
Goal 4: Data Analysis   yes yes yes
Goal 5: Effective Literacy Instruction via Literacy Lines yes     yes

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative 

Annual report details Write for Texas project’s expanding reach and impact
October 28, 2016

Findings reported in the 2015–2016 Write for Texas Annual Report illustrate the rapid growth and positive impact of the program across the state. 

The report synthesizes data from a wide range of sources, including Write for Texas coach and site staff reflections, field-based activity reports, and teacher and administrator survey responses from schools that Write for Texas supports. Data indicate impressive project outcomes, with 83% of respondents reporting improvement in student reading and writing skills and 82% seeing increased student engagement.  

In addition to profiling the unique structure and components of Write for Texas, the report presents information on the schools (more than 200 schools in more than 100 districts) and educators supported by the project. Highlights include frequency measures of classroom teaching routines and anecdotal evidence showing the positive influence Write for Texas coaches and materials have on staff development to improve academic reading and writing instruction in the secondary grades.  

Now entering its third year, the program continues to grow its coaching cadre and designate more Write for Texas districts and schools seeking to develop teachers and students using instructional best practices. 

For more information, download the 2015–2016 Write for Texas Annual Report or visit the Write for Texas website

Write for Texas 

Making Middle School Matter Workshop set for January in Austin
October 26, 2016

The Middle School Matters Institute has partnered with the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals to host a conference on January 26 to 28 in Austin for middle grade administrators and educators.

Much like past Middle School Matters Institute conferences, the Making Middle School Matter Workshop will focus on research-based practices and strategies to implement in the classroom.

Attendees should expect a series of keynotes, breakout sessions, speed learning sessions, and time set aside for networking and planning.

Topics will include using early-warning indicator data to identify students at risk of dropping out; teaching students strategies to monitor their reading comprehension; enhancing learning through writing strategies; and measuring, monitoring, and managing important data.

For more information and to register for the conference, visit the Middle School Matters Institute website.

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

Mini-lessons, research briefs to support struggling students are now available online
October 24, 2016

The Targeting the 2 Percent project has developed two series of resources to develop educators’ instructional effectiveness with students with learning disabilities and difficulties.

The project created a set of mini-lessons structured around the five essential components of reading instruction that can be used with students in kindergarten to grade 5 whose data show a need in a specific component.

Also, professors and researchers in the field wrote 11 research briefs to support evidence-based instructional practices. Topics include the five essential components of reading, grouping practices, peer supports, instructional considerations for dyslexia, English language learners, and literacy instruction for students with autism.

For more information and to download the mini-lessons and research briefs, which were developed with the support of the Texas Education Agency, visit the Targeting the 2 Percent project page.

Tags: Reading Institute  Targeting the 2 Percent 

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 

MCPER secures $20 million grant to support postsecondary outcomes for deaf individuals
August 31, 2016

MCPER and a team of national partners have secured a $20 million, 5-year federal award to establish a national center focused on postsecondary outcomes for deaf individuals.

The new center, which will be part of MCPER's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute, will launch on January 1, 2017. Institute Director Stephanie Cawthon and Co-Investigator Carrie Lou Garberoglio will lead the initiative.

The overall goals of the center are to increase the numbers of deaf individuals who, without requiring remedial coursework, are admitted to, persist in, and complete postsecondary education or training; improve collaborations between community organizations, institutions, and state-level agencies; increase institutional capacity to implement evidence-based practices and strategies; increase knowledge on how to use technology to promote access and provide accommodations; and disseminate lessons learned.

"Ultimately, we seek to change the culture surrounding postsecondary outcomes for deaf individuals and create conditions for success in a way that recognizes and honors their experiences, perspectives, and abilities," Garberoglio said.

Services the center will provide include professional development opportunities, intensive training, live chat support, dissemination of promising models, community engagement activities, mobilization of local resources, national task forces, state collaboratives, national data reports, and research-to-practice activities.

The grant is through the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education.

Tags: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute 

In new article, Write for Texas director advocates for policy that supports research-based practices
August 18, 2016

A recent article by Write for Texas Director Ellie Hanlon in Texas Lone Star, a publication of the Texas Association of School Boards, features ways that school board members can influence classroom teaching practices to improve student writing.

Emphasizing that change requires commitment at all levels, “The Write Stuff: How to Create a Cadre of Strong Readers and Writers in Texas” engages school board members to consider focusing policy discussions and agendas on the importance of research-based instructional practices. The article supports board members to become knowledgeable about expectations for student writing skills at various grade levels and encourages them to look for evidence of strategies that promote reading and writing in all content areas.

The article also points readers to MCPER's 10 Key Writing Practices for All Schools, which includes practical, research-based recommendations and grade-level descriptions of student skills. The resource is part of the 10 Key series, which distills the latest research findings into concise, one-page top 10 lists of the most important things that should be in place in every school.

The backbone of Write for Texas continues to be its network of almost 100 dedicated writing coaches in more than 200 schools across the state. These site-based staff members design and deliver professional development to support classroom teachers, instructional and content specialists, and campus and district administrators to provide opportunities for all students to read, write, and discuss a wide variety of genres throughout the school year. In addition to planning a reprise of the regional summer institutes for 2017, Write for Texas will continue to develop resources to support educators at all levels to implement the guiding principles of effective writing instruction. 

Write for Texas