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Building better readers through technology

Lexia Reading instantly assesses students' weaknesses and gets them help fast

Tulare City School District has a large number of English learners in its diverse student body, which is predominantly Hispanic. Yet it has posted great success in reading scores over the past decade.

"Our district is ahead of the goals set by the federal government; in some cases, a couple of years ahead," said Paul Reagan, bilingual coordinator for the district, which is located in an agricultural region near Bakersfield, Calif. "When I look at districts around us, I find their scores aren't anywhere near close to us."

One reason for Tulare's success: a Web-based reading program called Lexia Reading ? that lets students work at their own pace as they master foundational reading skills.


Students start out with Lexia Reading by taking a quick, online exercise that determines their skill level. They're placed at a level that's challenging but not so hard it would create frustration. Students move through practice activities at their own speed.

"If they're struggling, the number of variables are reduced until they master that skill," said Nick Gaehde, the company's president. "Then it's ratcheted up again."

The program's software performs ongoing, integrated assessment of students' proficiency as they make their way through exercises, although the students are not aware of the monitoring. Teachers are alerted to problems through visual flags on student computers, and through a robust set of teacher and administrator reports available via the Web.

"The teachers who use it the most will tell you they'll never stop using it because of what they see in the classroom."

Students with similar weaknesses are grouped in lists so they can be taught individually or in small groups with Lexia Lessons ? that build skills in that particular area. Students can also be given short paper-and-pencil exercises to sharpen skills later in the day or at home.

"With Lexia, you don't get that lag between a student struggling and a student getting help," Gaehde said.

Tulare has 5,000 students that use Lexia Reading. The district has a licensing arrangement that allows up to 750 students to use the system at any given time. That makes it much more cost effective than rival programs that can charge as much as $150 a student per year, Reagan said, which helps districts with limited resources and fewer aides to be able to support increasingly diverse student needs.

Reagan says the Web-based program offers a powerful set of tools to monitor students at the class, school or district level. School administrators can compare district results to national benchmarks, or drill down to school, grade and even specific class levels to monitor student learning at any given moment.

Lexia recommends that students use the program two or three times a week, for at least 44 minutes total, and Tulare is looking for more ways to help students get even more time on Lexia Reading. The district is currently looking into using the program at public libraries or for home use, since the licensing rights still apply after regular school hours.

According to Reagan, Lexia Reading has become an essential component of Tulare's reading curriculum. "The teachers who use it the most will tell you they'll never stop using it because of what they see in the classroom," Reagan said.

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