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Grand Forks school find growing reading success through new teaching methods

Reading specialist Tami Schumacher works with kindergartener Ethan Laubach at Ben Franklin recently. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Nearly every student at Ben Franklin Elementary School this year surpassed a personal reading goal, said Principal Beth Randklev. School officials and teachers have long been working for the results. For several years now, the school has been honing a system that’s included new scheduling and more teacher collaboration. This has finally paid off in big gains for students, she said. The school’s national test scores through the Northwest Evaluation Association reflect its progress. The number of students who reached their growth target last year in reading ranged from 62 percent to 79 percent. This percentage aligns with students in the top 10 percent of schools nationwide, according to NWEA, which assesses students on reading and math twice annually. One grade level showed a 24 percentage point increase.  But Tami Schumacher, reading specialist, said she’s most impressed by seeing students take ownership of reading. “They know what their goal is, they know what they need to work on to get there,” she said. “When teachers are more targeted about what they’re teaching, that makes kids more aware of what they’re supposed to learn. And they want to reach their goals.” Scores Ben Franklin’s reading and personal growth scores have notably improved. This year, students’ overall state test scores jumped to 90 percent reading proficiency, up 13 percentage points since 2010. In NWEA test results covering 2010-2013, student progress varied. Some grade levels made great gains — for example, 77 percent of second-graders met personal reading targets last year, up 24 percentage points. Other grade levels didn’t score as high or increase as much. Still, all second- through fifth-graders still showed progress that was within the top 10 percent of schools nationwide, according to NWEA. By the end of this year, Ben Franklin ranked second-highest in reading proficiency out of the district’s dozen schools, according to district reports on NWEA. Kelly Elementary ranked the highest, with 88 percent of students scoring proficient or above, while 86 percent of students scored proficient in reading at Ben Franklin. Winship Elementary was the lowest at 56 percent. Keys to progress A different perspective on the relationship between students and teachers has driven success at the school, said officials.  The idea is that all students at each grade level belong to all teachers at that grade level, Randklev said. Students still have a classroom teacher, but they also attend a reading session at their learning level with a teacher who plans specifically for their needs, she said. Some classrooms are larger than others, depending on student need. “Even though they’re at the bottom group, it doesn’t mean that they’re struggling,” said Schumacher. “They might be at level.” Following this idea means students who need more help can get that help and move up to meet the benchmark, she said.  “It’s all about what the student needs and providing that in the right setting,” said Schumacher. “I think when they’re not frustrated, when they can learn right where they’re at, it’s easier to do the right thing.” Britteny Wolterstorff, who co-taught at the school through a partnership with UND, said the temporary relocation also helps. For some students, moving to a different classroom with a new teacher might also give them a good break, she said. Model school Ben Franklin has been working with this philosophy for several years, and the hard work has paid off, said officials. This year, the school was chosen as a “demonstration school” by the state for instruction and assessment. Ben Franklin was chosen in part because it had shown success by adjusting its resources, said Randklev. “We didn’t have the resources we needed, so we began to use our resources differently,” she said. As part of the recognition, the district receives funding from a federal grant. The money supports two UND grad students, like Wolterstorff, to work alongside teachers and learn better ways of reaching students, said Randklev. Further collaboration among teachers in the form of professional learning communities has also helped improve reading scores. Ben Franklin is among some schools in the district that have adopted the concept, which encourages all teachers to share ideas and solve problems. “The kids really are our kids,” said Schumacher.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit 

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