Sit down with kindergarten and first-grade readers at the Joseph elementary school and one will be amazed at how well they read. Of 16 youngsters in the Joseph kindergarten, all but one are reading at benchmark levels. The top reader in the first grade is reading at a rate of 138 words per minute.
The teachers, aides and administrators responsible for realizing higher-than-normal reading test scores at the school point to a one-week seminar they attended in 1999 as the key to success.
At that time Joseph Elementary was one of 17 schools in the state named as beneficiaries of a grant to finance a seminar titled "Big Ideas in Reading." Seven staff members attended the summer seminar and were taught a new form of reading testing called Dynamic Indicator of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS).
The new form of testing evaluates the level of student reading skills in many different areas through the use of a number of one minute tests. DIBELS testing not only saves time for the instructor with almost instantaneous test results, but identifies areas where a struggling student needs help.
The initial DIBELS seminar was presented by the University of Oregon and the Oregon State Department of Education.
Joseph first grade teacher Treva Crooks said that the DIBELS portion of the seminar was quite clear and straightforward, but that the means to apply the test results came through in a lot of information that was not put down on paper. Personally moving from third grade to first grade that year as a teacher, she had to work extra hard with her fellow staff members to make the program workable. She credits the teamwork generated by teachers Nancy Hook, Betty Belcher, Claudia Boswell and Katie Zollman, as well as the efforts from DIBELS test coordinator Sherry Warnock and school aides Tanya Collier, Judy Kinsley and Pam Royes, for drafting a teaching program that best compliments the testing data.
"The teaching program we use is unique to Joseph," said Crooks.
Kindergarten instructor Hook says that very few of her student s enter her class with the ability to read, but before Christmas break are reading. She teaches auditory phonemic awareness, rhyming and beginning sounds. She encourages her students to play with sounds, often on paper and even with small tiles.
Crooks says it is very gratifying for a teacher to see their students improve on their DIBELS scores. She tests her students once each month.
When reading weaknesses are discovered efforts to alleviate the shortcomings are made in small groups or one-on-one sessions with aides or teachers.
Though Joseph is using DIBELS testing in grades K-4, Wallowa Grade School - which is in its first year of the program - is testing this week for the first time in grades 4-6 as well.
The importance of the program is underscored by Wallowa special education teacher Donna Smith who quotes DIBELS teaching materials as saying that children who are not at grade level in reading by the third grade have only a one percent chance of ever catching up.
Wallowa's new program came as the result of a grant secured this year which has allowed elementary teachers, Title I instructor Nancy Roberts and Smith to attend a trio of three-day seminars over the course of the year. The third will be held in Salem this spring. Wallowa students identified as needing reading help are tested every two weeks, while those with benchmark or higher proficiencies are tested three times a year, said Smith.
While Joseph has aides to troubleshoot targeted students at the kindergarten and first grade levels, Wallowa, because of budget cuts, utilizes Smith and Roberts to tutor those in need of reading assistance. They work with teachers Carol Mock, Jan Bird, Marilyn Soares, Lisa Lindsey and librarian Marcia Sheehy.
Early in March Crooks and Warnock from Joseph Elementary went to Powder Valley and taught a workshop to some 50 educators from Union and Baker Counties on what Joseph has learned from five years of work with the DIBELS testing process.