WordFlight drives significant student gains in Leander ISD in Texas

Cecile Williams

Leander Independent School District in Texas has experienced explosive growth in recent years, resulting in the opening of several new schools. But as the district’s student population has increased, so have the number of students who need additional support in reading and instruction. Jennifer Abramson—the Secondary English Language Arts Coordinator for Leander ISD—and her colleagues realized that some students decoded well but did not understand what they read, while others were unable to decode well, lacked automaticity, and thus struggled with comprehension.

Learning to decode at the word level, read fluently, and tackle texts of increasing complexity are essential stages of growth for readers. Abramson wanted teachers to be able to accurately diagnose and support readers through each of these stages in a consistent, equitable, and ongoing fashion. Importantly, she did not want a current need for reading recovery to become a life sentence determining students’ future educational and career pathways.

“Literacy may be the ultimate gatekeeper for students, and all too often, it is an issue that is directly impacted by equity and access,” said Abramson. “Although schools fully realize the magnitude of reading failure, which impacts two-thirds of our nation’s secondary students, far too many are not receiving the literacy instruction training they need to become proficient readers.”

Abramson’s goal for striving readers in her district was that they make more than a year’s worth of progress within the timeframe of just a single academic year, so they are able to catch up to their grade-level peers who are currently ahead. By doing so, students are set up to succeed in common real-world situations, such as taking a driver’s test or submitting job applications, and make intentional choices about college and career.

While the STAAR state standardized assessment and the Reading Inventory help provide Leander ISD with a broad-based overview of literacy levels, Abramson felt her district needed to take a more in-depth approach. Therefore, starting in the spring of 2013, Leander began using a blended reading intervention program developed by Foundations in Learning. WordFlight (which at the time went by the name Access Code) enabled the district to address the needs of its students who displayed gaps in phonemic awareness and automaticity of word recognition. They found that students who used this intervention were able to increase their Lexile scores by 400 points—four times the yearly anticipated growth. By combining these balanced literacy tools with small group instruction, individual guided reading, and vocabulary acquisition, Leander began experiencing exceptional gains in reading recovery and overall literacy.

At present, Leander ISD is using WordFlight on every secondary campus in the district as an intervention to support students’ reading acquisition and ensure there are no barriers to access for those who need targeted assistance and instruction. In addition, the district is focused on creating a comprehensive support system for students. “We need to fully acknowledge and make room for the social-emotional components of literacy, which may determine whether students become confident and capable lifelong readers,” explained Abramson.

To support these goals, the district’s Curriculum and Instruction Team provides on-campus professional learning via classroom modeling, planning, and co-teaching to ensure implementation of both the skill-based and social-emotional components of reading acquisition. In addition, the district’s Secondary Literacy Academy and Workshop Support Group holds monthly professional learning sessions to grow teachers’ collective knowledge and develop an even deeper understanding of the district’s literacy objectives.

“Our professional development model, with the support of WordFlight, gives teachers direct support for their development needs in an effort to better support students,” said Alicia Wescot, Secondary Intervention Coordinator for Leander ISD. “With an online program, the relationship between the student and the teacher remains the most critical path to success.  With WordFlight, we hope to engage teachers with the resources in a way that students can work independently as needed but also have access to the classroom teacher to enhance their intervention experience.”