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Achieve3000 program popular with students, teachers

It’s been five months since Rowan-Salisbury Schools decided to implement Achieve3000, an online learning tool that adjusts content to a student’s reading level to help build literacy skills, and educators and students alike have latched onto the program.

“I’ve never seen the spark before that I’m seeing in kids now,” Landis Elementary teacher Kathi Sease said.

But teachers are finding that sometimes, a little bit of encouragement is necessary. Last week, schools began handing out “iread40” bracelets to students as an incentive to reach a system-wide goal of mastery of 40 articles, Rowan-Salisbury Schools Public Information Officer Rita Foil said.

“It’s a visual incentive,” Brooke Zehmer, principal at Landis Elementary, said. “It’s a ‘good job.’ People thrive on pats on the back.”

With Achieve300, students are encouraged to read 40 articles a semester and pass comprehension quizzes with a 75 percent or higher accuracy in order to improve their reading level.

“What research shows is that children read at least forty articles and then pass those articles with at least 75 percent accuracy that they will see significant gains in their lexile, which is the measurement of their reading level,” Angie Basinger, literacy design coach at Landis Elementary, said.

But while Achieve3000 offers kids a second chance if they miss an answer, it’s only the first try that counts — at least for their official score.

“We’ve got some kids who are up in the 80s with their articles, but their pass rate is significantly low… either they’re reading it and not caring about the activities, or they’re reading it and not understanding the materials, so they’re not successful at passing it. But it’s still good encouragement because they’re reading,” West Rowan Middle School Principal Derek McCoy said.

The online reading database does offer areas for students to summarize content or the option to go back and review the article mid-quiz, but it can be hard for a student to remember that.

“It was hard at first to get the students at first to realize, ‘Don’t go through the motions, let’s do this to make sure it’s working.’” Corinne Mauldin, a teacher at North Rowan High School, said.

So schools are getting inventive. While the iread40 bracelets were a push from the school system, each school is putting together its own reward system to offer in conjunction with individual encouragement and coaching from teachers.

“You gotta get kids excited about learning,” McCoy said, “and the incentives is a piece that we have to keep in front of any initiatives that we’re doing.”

At West Rowan Middle, students receive bracelets when they’ve completed 10, 15, 20 and 25 activities successfully. Only about 10 students qualified for a bracelet when the incentive program started in December, but this month they’re giving out 38 bracelets in sixth grade alone.

Also starting in December, kids who read and passed at least 10 articles were invited to participate in the school’s “Bulldog Parade,” a monthly event to celebrate student accomplishments.

“It’s a feel-good moment,” McCoy said.

A tally on the wall of West Rowan Middle’s media center keeps track of how many kids in each grade have completed articles with 75 percent mastery. McCoy says the first grade to reach 20 students who have completed 20 articles will receive a pizza party — it’s an added bonus that’s spurring the students on.

At Landis, the bracelets are incentive enough, Zehmer says, and the school plans to accompany it with a classroom celebration.

At North Rowan High School, the spirit of competition is fierce after one of Mauldin’s science classes gained national recognition from Achieve3000. It’s stepped up the game for the whole school, Principal Fateama Fulmore says.

“That is the ultimate goal — for, across this building, every child to reach their potential with the program and for every classroom to be nationally recognized as a read to succeed classroom,” Fulmore said.

Mauldin herself is competitive, and says that while many students aren’t fond of reading, they definitely don’t like to lose.

“That’s something you can use as a motivating factor,” Mauldin said.

Mauldin pitted her classes against each other, keeping track of each class’s progress and using it to fuel the fire in the others. And when Mauldin’s small Sports Medicine class was named a “Read to Succeed” classroom by Achieve3000 and received a gift card, she let the students choose how they wanted to celebrate.

“If the students don’t do it, it doesn’t matter what we do,” Mauldin said. “So it’s about what the students did to get our school and our district some national recognition with this.”

Mauldin’s class decided to reserve the media center and host a party and it got other students, and teachers, excited about pushing boundaries with Achieve3000

Fulmore says that while students at North Rowan are celebrating their own achievements with the program and often come up with their own rewards and suggestions, she also encourages teachers to celebrate and recognize students within their classroom when they improve their lexile, and plans to recognize each student who passes 40 articles with a celebratory tweet.

“The more we recognize and honor them for the good they’re doing, the more that drives that positive energy for our kids. So we’re going to be all about the celebration of their achievement,” Fulmore said.

There are also some practical changes schools are making to encourage students to read more articles. While Achieve3000 normally only counts articles read and activities completed during the course of the school day, North Rowan High and West Rowan Middle have chosen to extend that window by several hours.

“If we’re only relying on kids to do it from bell to bell, that’s going to eliminate a lot of opportunity,” McCoy said.

West Rowan Middle has also tried to challenge students to read over the break, and to foster a culture of reading and learning.

Gwynne Shoaf, the literacy coach at West Rowan Middle, says that teachers receive training from Achieve3000 on strategies to encourage students, and she and other literacy coaches within the system hold individual conferences with students to get them interested.

“It’s going great. When you’re talking about changing a culture, when you’re talking about changing the reading culture of a school or what do we value here in the school, that’s going to take some time to build. This is a great tool to help us make some good significant gains and some good significant changes to our reading culture with some great support to our teachers. So yeah, I’m excited to see where we’re gonna be in six months. I’m excited to see where we’re gonna be in a year,” McCoy said.

McCoy says he’d like to partner with members of the community to offer even more incentives for students that would be available outside of the school. While teachers are building the hype inside classrooms, Fulmore says the real goal is to take that passion for learning beyond school walls.

“We want to motivate our kids to not just do it for the sake of saying ‘I got a lexile,’ but to say ‘reading is fun and I’m learning and I’m exploring and I’m broadening my horizons,’” Fulmore said.

And she believes Achieve3000 can do that.

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