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Urban, At-Risk Arizona District Sees Success Spread from School to School

The Success for All program drives sustainable improvement in the Alhambra Elementary School District.

In the Alhambra Elementary School District in Phoenix, success is infectious. That explains why almost all the schools in the at-risk district have adopted Success for All, the research-proven reading program developed by the non-profit Success for All Foundation.

“Some of our schools have been Success for All schools for some time,” says Mara Wayland, the district’s assistant superintendent of academic services. “As those schools saw huge successes, more and more of our schools have gravitated toward it.”

Thirteen of Alhambra’s 14 Title I schools have adopted Success for All, using the Reading Roots program in primary grades, Reading Wings in upper elementary, and the Reading Edge in middle school classrooms. This year, the primary grades introduced the new Reading Roots 4th Edition, which incorporates the use of interactive whiteboards as a powerful instructional tool. “The lessons really come alive,” Wayland says.

"If we were going to invest, we wanted something we knew would work."

Wayland first came to admire Success for All 13 years ago, when she began implementation of the program in the school where she was principal. The same qualities that attracted her to Success for All then still hold true today. “We examined a lot of programs, and what set it apart was that it is based on solid research,” she says. “They were getting results, and the results were replicable. If we were going to invest, we wanted something we knew would work.”

Wayland credits Success for All with driving consistent improvements in student achievement at the schools in her district. “We are, indeed, seeing huge gains, especially in the primary grades,” she says. A primary school in which 95 percent of students receive free lunch and 72 percent are English language learners met the difficult standards for an “excelling” school—Arizona’s highest category of achievement. In that school, 87 percent of students met and exceeded standards in reading, compared with state averages in the 70 percent range.

The program is also demonstrating positive affects in Alhambra’s middle school classrooms. In its second year of using Success for All, one middle school saw a 20 percent improvement among ELL students, a subgroup whose results had been stagnating.

With its evidence of sustainable school improvement and commitment to continuous staff development, Success for All meets the criteria for stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“You really are a true partner with Success for All,” Wayland says. “They continue to look at the latest research and update the program based on that. The training is ongoing. You have a point person who attends your leadership meetings and monitors data with you.”

The Success for All approach is based on a cycle of effective instruction that includes direct teaching; cooperative learning in which students work as teams, but are individually accountable; and formal and informal assessments. By constantly monitoring student progress, teachers and administrators can use data to guide instructional decisions and to plan interventions.

To Wayland, Success for All is much more than a reading program. “I call it a staff development program in disguise,” she says. “The student engagement strategies and the cooperative learning strategies in Success for All permeate the classroom all day long. Scores in other content areas go up when you are a Success for All school.”

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