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Reading Intervention for At-Risk Students

March 2024

by Kelly McCandless

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are academic cornerstones, skills enabling people to functionally move through society. Reading is the foundation upon which every other skill builds.  

Literacy struggles consistently link with academic success and future prospects. According to Kristie Martin, an Instructional Literacy Coach for School District 2, third grade is an especially important benchmark for literacy. Data indicates that children not reading proficiently by third-grade face an increased likelihood of dropping out, impacting graduation rates and leading to long-term consequences affecting employability, economic well-being, social and emotional health, and potential involvement in the criminal justice system. For these reasons, people like Kristie focus on helping kids move from learning to read to reading to learn.  

Kristie and her counterparts at SD2 collaborate with teachers to enhance their skills in supporting students' reading development. Common Core standards, state and national testing, and daily observation assessments help monitor students' progress, with a focus on individual needs. The goal is to empower every teacher to provide effective tier-I instruction in their classrooms. Monitoring literacy scores is crucial, and coaches analyze data at individual schools to identify areas for improvement.  

The Big Picture 

Montana, in 2022, slightly surpassed the national average in literacy scores, with a score of 219 compared to the national average of 216 on the National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) testing for fourth graders. However, scores have declined over the past decade. Billings’ reading scores are the lowest statewide among AA school districts, with 64.2% of students not reading proficiently in spring 2023. Statewide, 56.8% of students struggle with reading proficiency. There is work to be done.  

Creating Solutions 

Interventions focus on specific academic or behavioral needs to address literacy challenges. Co-teaching and pushing into classrooms allow interventionists and coaches to collaborate with teachers in real time, ensuring no child misses class time. Kristie emphasized the importance of being in the classroom. “When I can co-teach with a teacher learning a new skill, there are two of us to work with the kids, and we’re working through these lessons in real-time. No child is missing class time, and I’m able to model diverse methods of teaching, meaning they’ll further develop their skills for the next time when I’m not in their classroom.” Literacy coaches also offer professional development, supporting new and experienced teachers in improving their instructional practices.  

Creating sustainable support systems is crucial for ensuring equitability and consistency across schools. Kristie shared how impactful it would be to establish robust systems encompassing people, resources, and training to teach literacy effectively. “Equitability and consistency among schools is so important and will get us closer to sending kids out of elementary school reading and writing at the rigor required by their grade level standards,” she said.  

Programs to Support At-Risk Readers 

In addition to programs through school, local programming complements reading and literacy education:  

  • Billings Public Library offers many events and programmatic opportunities for all readers.  
  • Reading Rocks, the summer literacy program offered by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools offers free books to children of all ages to help build home libraries and encourage reading during the summer months.  
  • The Education Foundation also collaborates with donors who aim to build literacy skills for young readers. Through a program at Newman Elementary, one donor funds a reading tutor who works with at-risk students every single week. Because of this donor’s dedication to literacy, dozens of students get specialized tutoring each year. This unique approach could help many other students with additional support.  
  • Little Free Libraries exist in many neighborhoods across the community. Allow children to self-select books to encourage them further.  
  • Read. This part may seem redundant, but, as Kristie said, “Reading is the best way to build literacy. Read with your kids, whether you’re reading to them or they’re reading to you. If they’re struggling, ask them if they have learned a tool in school to help them figure out a challenging word. Practice is the best way to build skills.”  

Ideal Outcomes 

The ideal outcomes are quite simple: instill joy in reading. “For every kid, the light bulb goes on at a different time,” explained Kristie. “We get stuck thinking they need to hit benchmarks, and while they exist, continuing to build those skills is just so important. If we’re doing the right things to help kids map and decode words, we also need to make sure we’re involving the joy of reading so once the light bulb goes on, they are excited to keep going.” Providing choices and fostering a love for reading are integral components of literacy education, ensuring that children not only meet benchmarks but also find joy in the process. 

Originally printed in the March 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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