Over 18 million minutes of interventions in reading and math. We placed tutors in more than 600 schools across the state of Minnesota who collectively provided over 18 million minutes of interventions to students who needed extra support. 18 million minutes — this is pretty spectacular! We believe that every instructional minute counts, and we are so grateful to be welcomed into your buildings to provide this additional support to your students.
Students making academic progress. Students participating in Reading Corps and Math Corps made incredible progress and growth last school year.
News5 Take-Aways from the 2018-19 Program Evaluation
In 2015, schools were given the chance to begin using a sophisticated data management system (or DMS) to track students in Reading Corps’ progress and outcomes, and now, schools will have the same opportunity to do so with students in Math Corps as a new Math Corps Data Management system (MCDMS) launches across Minnesota this fall.
NewsA New Data Management System for Math Corps Offers Increased Data Gathering Power
Remember the commercial, “There’s an app for that”? Math Corps tutors are about to start quoting it quite a bit as a new math app (which will eventually receive a more creative name) rolls out over the next school year.
The app was a natural way to help deliver math interventions, said Benjamin Swift, the information systems expert who has helped develop the new app for Math Corps.
NewsMath Corps Students Get a New High-Tech Way to Boost Fact Fluency
Peter Nelson, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and Innovation at ServeMinnesota, where he engages with programs including Reading Corps and Math Corps to ensure key principles of effective implementation and evidence-building occur. In this interview, we discussed how Nelson’s team was able to implement a new assessment strategy to help improve learning outcomes for students in Reading Corps.
Using Assessment to Understand a Problem
Reading Corps is a program that has been around for 15+ years in order to help younger elementary students read at grade level. The program’s tutors use different strategies, or interventions, to help the students. How do we assess how those students are doing?
Peter Nelson: In our K-3 Reading Corps model, we use brief measures of students’ literacy skill to get a sense of how they are doing across time. They practice during each session five days a week, but also complete the brief assessments once each week. Each score gets plotted on a graph. We compare those scores to what we call an aim line, which is line drawn from where they start in the fall to a benchmark in the spring linked to future college readiness and mastering proficiency.
When three of the last five weekly scores are above that aim line, and two of those scores are above the next benchmark, students are exited from the program. For example, if you exit in March, you need three data points above your goal line, two of which must be above a future spring goal. It’s a rigorous way to exit kids from receiving the extra support that Reading Corps provides.
We want to be confident that when we remove Reading Corps support, the student will stay on track and be successful.
What was the initial problem you were interested in?
For a few years, we knew there were kids who exited from Reading Corps but weren’t staying on track. You can look at the probability in the paper—we were seeing about 34 percent of students falling off track after an exit decision. To be clear, we were seeing that kids were much better off than they were previously, but many kids just weren’t maintaining a level of performance we’d hope for once Reading Corps support was discontinued.
So even though about 66 percent of kids were maintaining a great growth trajectory, we care a lot about the 34 percent that weren’t.
Weighing Difference Approaches
How did you figure out why this was happening?
We looked at a lot of factors to understand why we were seeing that drop off in performance after kids left Reading Corps.
We wondered, for example, if the point in time during the school year that kids exited the program impacted their long term growth. That didn’t explain it. We then looked at demographics of kids – race, gender and so on – and that wasn’t explaining much either.
Eventually, we started thinking less about predicting the drop off and more about whether changes to the decision guidelines would be useful. For example, we spent time thinking about, should we change our criteria for exit and make it more rigorous?
Would that be a good approach?
We didn’t see a lot of potential or return there. The yield turned out to not really be worth it, because any time you’re keeping kids in the program longer, you are keeping another kid out. A kid who then needs support isn’t getting it, when the student in the program is doing fine. So we ended up not really evaluating new exit criteria in practice.
So then we shifted our focus to think less about what happens before kids exit to what we could do after the exit.
Assessment as a Means to Solve the Problem
What did you wind up trying?
One thing we discussed was giving kids some extra practice after exit. We started thinking about the least invasive form of practice, which was conveniently already baked into the experiences of kids while they were in the program — each week during the intervention, tutors monitor progress of students using a short, minute-long assessment of reading fluency. So we thought why not just keep that going after the intervention? Progress monitoring is something that has been documented previously as something that can improve students’ academic achievement — but only by way of informing instruction or adapting to their needs. It’s never been discussed as something that is inherently beneficial.
If you think about progress monitoring as a task, though, kids are getting an opportunity to practice a skill that they’re being tested on at the end of the year. In this case, it is the exact skill – reading from a passage – they’re being tested on. They also are getting feedback on how they’re doing, and they’re getting a reminder of what the goal is for the end of the year.
These are really powerful things that we talk about in intervention – opportunity to respond, opportunity to engage in the task, and feedback. So that was our hypothesis – that continued progress monitoring after kids have exited Reading Corps could make a difference for long term outcomes.
You were able to test the hypothesis through a research pilot. What happened?
We saw a 10 to 14 percent increase in the probability of meeting the end-of-year benchmark among kids who got post-exit progress monitoring. This struck us as a really promising impact given the low level of time and resources involved.
This year, we are in the middle of a randomized control trial of post-exit progress monitoring – we have 100 sites, 50 of which will continue to monitor the progress of kids weekly after they exit from Reading Corps and 50 sites that are not doing that. It’s a really minor change to programming with a big potential payoff.
How were able to identify this issue and implement change so quickly?
We’re able to do it largely because we have infrastructure that supports innovation. It supports the analysis – we have pretty sophisticated data systems, where we know how kids are performing and growing, but we also know information about their experiences. We know how many minutes they’re getting, when they’re getting support, what exactly they’re doing, where they are geographically and what kind of tutors they’re working with. It’s a really rich dataset. Not a lot of folks in academia have access to that kind of data. It’s millions of cases and thousands of kids.
The other piece is we have this program that is serving all of these kids, and it’s still relatively nimble. In a year’s time, we can say, “We learned this, now let’s change this.” And there aren’t a lot of analogs to that. I don’t think in your typical education setting you can say, “We found this out, we’re going to make this change.” We can. In this case, we might just make it for a subgroup, but if we find out positive results this year, it’s something we can rapidly scale for everybody nationally, which is great.
What would it take to decide to rapidly scale that change nationally?
If we see ANY impact that is statistically significant, meaning that the kids who got post-exit progress monitoring in the randomized control trial this year were better off at the end of the year than similar kids who were not participating, that will be enough for us to make the change. If we see the same effect, that would be great. Even if it’s just 10 percent, that would be enough. Getting one additional student out of every 10 to meet their benchmark at the scale of thousands of kids, is something that’s notable.
NewsThis Small Program Change is Helping Kids Maintain Their Progress
Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Julia Espe, Ed.D., who served as Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools from 2013 to her retirement in 2016. She currently works as a consultant for ServeMinnesota, the organization that oversees AmeriCorps programs for the state of Minnesota.
Reading Corps and Math Corps Are Vital Parts of Multi Tiered Systems
It is important for communities around the state to know that teaching and learning are seriously rocket science. That is, it is a complex system of creating the right environment of student engagement and challenging targets, knowing exactly what students need to learn to meet or exceed the targets, providing that teaching and learning experience for the student, assessing whether the student is making progress and starting the cycle again.
In the case of students who have difficulty learning, a whole new layer of rocket science is needed. Trained professionals need to identify the gaps or needs, provide a targeted intervention to relearn those, decide the approach that will help the learning to “stick,” make a determination how long and intensive the intervention needs to be given to the student and ascertain when the student is indeed meeting the target. Each child is different and has different needs, and teaching and learning has to adjust to provide those needs.
The Princeton School District has a system of Multi Tiered Systems of Supports, and Reading and Math Corps are vital parts of the interventions mentioned above. Title Programs provide additional supports for students in need of interventions. A program called ADSIS (Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services) delivers even more interventions for additional students. Students with the greatest needs receive special education services, which are the most expensive of all interventions.
Finally, teachers differentiate instruction for students as they provide instruction in the core curriculum. It is difficult for lay people to realize the science of teaching — in other words, rocket science — that helps students to learn. To the public, all of this may be invisible in a classroom. In order to put this system together, we need support from the state and federal funding that we currently receive.
Decrease in Specific Learning Disabilities
Princeton is a small school district with about 3,200 students PreK through grade 12. Like many districts in Minnesota, it does not have a data and research department. We took a simple approach to measuring cost savings of Reading and Math Corps to the district by looking at a three-year period (2005-2006 through 2007-2008) prior to implementing Reading and Math Corps.
During that time Princeton Public Schools averaged about 14 students with a Specific Learning Disability. Over the past nine years since we implemented Reading and Math Corps, the average number of students identified with a Specific Learning Disability has decreased to seven students — a decrease of 50 percent.
Reading Corps and Math Corps Save You Time
Special education in Minnesota follows a predictable process. Each school district is responsible for identifying children who are suspected of having a disability, beginning at birth, who attend public or nonpublic school and school age children who are not attending school. This system is commonly referred to as “child find.” The child find system should include the process for receiving referrals from parents, physicians, private and public programs, and health and human services agencies.
Before a school district refers a student for a special education evaluation, the district must conduct at least two research-based pre-referral interventions. A pre-referral intervention is a scientific research-based instructional strategy, alternative or intervention designed to address a student’s academic or behavioral needs in the general education classroom. The classroom teacher is responsible for implementing the first tier of interventions.
Tiered interventions outside of the general education classroom offer more intensive instruction to students who have not demonstrated marked improvement with general classroom supports. Reading Corps and Math Corps are just two of the many supports available to students in the Princeton district.
When a student is evaluated for special education services in the area of specific learning disabilities, multiple staff are required to participate in the evaluation process. For an initial evaluation, a special education teacher will spend roughly 15 hours gathering and reviewing data, evaluating the student, meeting with school staff and parents to review the results and generating a summary report of the information.
In addition, a school psychologist will contribute an additional five hours to the evaluation process. A general education teacher and school administrator will also contribute an additional hour as part of the evaluation. For every initial evaluation, licensed school staff are contributing a total of up to 20 hours to each individual evaluation. If the student qualifies for special education services, up to five more hours will be contributed before services can begin.
The most significant benefit of tiered interventions to the student is time. Research-based interventions such as those offered through Reading Corps and Math Corps do not require the time-intensive evaluations mandated by federal and state special education regulations and statutes. A data-driven analysis of formative assessment data allows general education teachers and interventionists to implement intensive instruction almost immediately.
When Reading Corps and Math Corps Increased, Fewer Special Ed Services Were Needed
Reading Corps and Math Corps services have been available to Princeton students for five years. Over the same period of time, the number of students requiring special education services has been declining — 23 fewer students over the same time period. This is a great cost savings. Here is a breakdown of the numbers:
Each student costs roughly $13,000 per year for specialized instruction.
This totals approximately $300,000 per year.
This equals approximately $1,500,000 in savings over five years.
In short, Reading Corps and Math Corps have not only helped our students to learn how to read and perform better in math, these programs have also saved our district in costs. Occasionally we hear that these programs may be reduced in support. They are supported through AmeriCorps funding. Our state legislators recently increased funding for the programs, and we thank them. Congress has supported our programming ever since its inception. As the federal government works on budget, we will continue to advocate for financing.
Not only do these programs work for our students. They also are cost-effective. And it’s very difficult to not to advocate for that.
NewsHow Reading Corps and Math Corps Can Offset Special Education Costs
By Lindsay Dolce, J.D.
Republished with permission from ServeMinnesota
Editor’s Note: Lindsay Dolce is the Chief Advancement Officer for Reading & Math Foundation, which advances the replication and expansion efforts for the proven Minnesota Reading Corps model and the Minnesota Math Corps model in new communities nationwide.
In 2002, when I started a new job as an attorney working on family law matters, I had no idea that nearly 20 years later I would leave the practice of law to pursue a career that allows me to support nearly 40,000 children each year with critical reading and math interventions.
The path was not a straight line, in fact it was quite curvy but the common thread all along was that I wanted to be a voice for children who are not able to advocate for themselves. Over the last 20 years advocating for “littles” I have learned a few important facts. First, I have NEVER met a child who is not “ready to learn.” Children are born with an amazing sense of curiosity and adventure. They bring that with them when they show up at school for the first time, and what I know is that AmeriCorps members who choose to serve in school settings are able to turn that curiosity and sense of adventure into something exceptional … growth. The AmeriCorps members who choose to serve as a Reading Corps or Math Corps tutor often tell me that they weren’t quite sure what they were signing up for but it exceeded their expectations. Having a chance to support children in their learning journey and provide hope about their ability to achieve is the greatest gift a person can give a child.
I am honored to help lead an organization that invests in creating brighter futures for children by taking the science behind reading and math comprehension and using it to fuel the tools our tutors use every day in classrooms around the country with kids. For nearly 20 years I have observed a variety of nonprofits running different programs nationally. What truly sets Reading Corps and Math Corps apart is the single-minded focus on making sure what we do works and actually helps move the needle for kids age three to grade three in reading and fourth through eighth grade in math.
When I made the transition from being a family law attorney to working in the nonprofit world I heard the phrase “evidence-based interventions” a lot. To be honest, I didn’t have the foggiest idea why that was so important until I started to look at the outcomes of different programs. I don’t have a Ph.D., but I can see the difference between children scoring in the proficient versus not proficient categories. It befuddled me that so many kids were finishing kindergarten and third grade “not ready” to advance to the next grade. Especially when we know that if a child fails to learn how to read by third grade, that child is more likely to dropout of high school and face enormous challenges in life. ALL of this starts in the first years of a child’s life. Without a solid foundation, children are not able to make the critical transition from learning to read to reading to learn.
Advances in child development and educational psychology have converged on three compelling conclusions. Here is what science tells us:
Early experiences are built into our bodies. Significant adversity can produce physiological disruptions or biological “memories” that undermine the development of the body’s stress response systems and affect the developing brain, cardiovascular system, immune system and metabolic regulatory controls. These physiological disruptions can persist far into adulthood.
Nevertheless, the power of high-quality relationships and learning experiences can demonstrably improve children’s outcomes.
In short – what happens during, and after, a child’s early experiences matters A LOT.
Here is what common sense tells us:
Caring adults can provide young children with positive relationships, rich learning opportunities and safe environments.
When those caring adults sign up for an AmeriCorps experience in Reading Corps and Math Corps, they are committed to helping children acquire two of the most fundamental learning — and life — skills that people need for success.
The combination of caring adults who help children have high-quality learning experiences shouldimprove student outcomes.
It does! The evidence behind Reading and Math Corps proves it. Investments in evidence-based programs that demonstrate growth and strong outcomes for children are the closest thing to a golden ticket we can give our children.
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Tuesday, April 2nd, is National Service Recognition Day. On this day, local leaders take to social media, organize special events and issue official proclamations celebrating and recognizing the incredible impact AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps members have on their community and the nation.
As AmeriCorps members, you tackle one of our country’s toughest challenges — educating the leaders of tomorrow! As a show of appreciation for your service, local Minnesota leaders have planned special recognition events to celebrate your dedication to get things done for struggling students. All AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members and alum who served in the following cities are invited to attend.
April 2nd: 1 – 3 p.m. – City Hall Rotunda, 350 S. Fifth Street
Mayor Jacob Frey and local leadership will be hosting a program to give thanks to those members and alum who made a lasting impact on the city of Minneapolis. Refreshments will be provided.
April 2nd: 3 – 4:30 p.m. – Blackstack Brewing, 755 Prior Avenue North
Record your experience via Story Mobile and join Mayor Melvin Carter for special remarks during this happy hour event for members and alum who gave their time to serve the schools of St. Paul. Refreshments will be provided.
April 7th: 1 – 2 p.m. – Mayor’s Reception Room, City Hall, 411 West First Street
Celebrate both National Service Recognition Day and National Volunteer Week (April 7 – 13) with Mayor Emily Larson. Mayor Larson will honor those amazing contributions by members and alum who made a difference for the city of Duluth.
Guest Writer: Jon Gustafson, former Elementary Literacy Tutor at Highland Park Elementary in St. Paul, MN
It was 2015 and I was in the process of acquiring my K-6 elementary teaching license in Minnesota. I wanted to get experience in an elementary school as soon as possible, I just wasn’t sure how to get my foot in the door. That was until I heard about Minnesota Reading Corps.
I was assigned to Highland Park Elementary in St. Paul as a K-3 Reading Corps literacy specialist. Before the school year started, I attended the Reading Corps Institute—four days of intensive training in literacy interventions that would be my first introduction to evidence-based practices for teaching reading.
When I think back to that training, I marvel at how thousands of non-experts like myself were transformed into data-driven literacy practitioners in just one week, and that we were provided with research-based teaching skills that were not necessarily being taught in the graduate level coursework required to become a licensed teacher.
Throughout the school year I completed daily literacy interventions with 10-12 students and watched as my students experienced growth in the “Big 5” components to reading outlined by the National Reading Panel—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. I was given monthly expert coaching from a seasoned literacy expert (a retired teacher) and used data-driven decision making to adjust individual student interventions. By the end of the school year, I knew I was a part of something special—and that the experiences and knowledge I gained through the Minnesota Reading Corps were an important part of my teacher training.
Until stumbling across the now infamous September 2018 Hard Words, Why aren’t kids being taught to read published by APM Reports and reported by Emily Hanford, I did not realize that my experience was so widely shared. In the piece, Hanford notes that “in 2016, the National Council on Teacher Quality…reviewed the syllabi of teacher preparation programs across the country and found that only 39 percent of them appeared to be teaching the components of effective reading instruction.” I myself was not explicitly taught the “Big 5” literacy components, nor trained in interventions to help struggling students in those areas—but I was in Reading Corps.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that Minnesota Reading Corps was by far the most useful preparation for teaching reading that I experienced. I hope that as the discussion about teacher preparation progresses, we can acknowledge it is unacceptable that more than 60 percent of American fourth-graders are not proficient readers. Research-based answers on how to solve this problem exist, and thanks to Reading Corps there is an effective model to follow and build upon.
Jon Gustafson served with Reading Corps during the 2015-16 school year and currently works as a 5th grade teacher at Hennepin Middle School in Minneapolis.
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NewsReading Corps: Where I Learned How to Teach Reading
Interested in diving deeper into how national service supports democracy and community development? Wondering how you will continue to make an impact after your service term ends? Our partners at ServiceYear have teamed up with Arizona State University to offer a new online course geared specifically toward service-minded people like you.
This 3-credit hour course will explore how civic engagement has shaped American Democracy throughout history and how it continues to impact democracy today. You’ll explore what makes American democracy distinct, how to focus your civic engagement in light of government structures, what roles service and social engagement play in civil society, and how identity gives us insight into the mobilization of groups. At the conclusion of the class, you will have an idea of how to apply what you care about to a specific pathway to make a difference.
This learning opportunity is available for free or for academic credit. There is no prerequisite to enroll, and the course is taught at a college freshman level. If you’re budgeting for the expense, you have 12 months after you complete the course to pay the tuition ($400). You can also choose to use your education award to cover the cost (just indicate your intent to do so when you sign up for the course).
The course runs from March 12 through May 7, so be sure to apply by March 9 to participate!
Guest Writer: Maria Jimenez Perez, Math Enrichment Tutor at Middleton Elementary in Woodbury, MN
I worked as a math and science teacher at the high school level for nine years. My family had just moved from Puerto Rico to Minnesota and we had decided I was not going to work the first year to help the kids with the transition. One day, I was volunteering at their school, and I saw a Math Corps sticker at the main office’s window. I was intrigued, took a picture, came home and did some research. I thought that it was a great opportunity—especially when I couldn’t teach in Minnesota since I didn’t have a teaching license. Plus, I had seen firsthand how my 9th graders lacked basic skills needed before taking algebra. I kind of saw it as a sign.
Now, I learn so much every day—my students are great teachers! I have discovered myself, my passions, my strengths and my areas of opportunity. But I think the best part about being a tutor with Math Corps is being witness of the incredible transformation these students make. They start off a little hesitant and reluctant, then they start to understand what we are doing, having fun with it, and their confidence levels go up the roof. At the end of the year they all say that they didn’t know math could be fun! Not only does their confidence improve, their attitude toward math changes—which I think is a great thing!
The relationships we build with our students are also so important. One time we were working on the box method for division in our sessions. One of my students asked if she could apply this method to the decimal division problems problems she was doing in class—they had a test that day and she was not feeling ready. I didn’t know if the process would work, but we tried it together and it did! A few days later I came to my desk, and her graded test was on it. She had gotten a B+. I think this was the first passing grade she had gotten in her math class. I thought the teacher had left it there for me to see, but when I asked her she said she had not left it—my student left it there for me to see! She was so proud of her grade, she brought the test over to me first instead of taking it home for her parents to see.
Serving as a Minnesota Math Corps tutor has been one of the most enriching opportunities I’ve had. You don’t have to be a teacher or have experience teaching/tutoring. Anybody with a will to help, to learn and to make a difference can do this! If you are not sure, just give it a try—you will not regret it!
Reading Corps and Math Corps combine the people power of AmeriCorps and the science of learning to provide a solution to help narrow achievement gaps and help students become successful learners by the end of third and eighth grade.