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Computer programs aim to help student reading skills

LaGRANGE – Troup County Schools are using technology to get student reading scores back on track this year with new programs.

The Troup County Board of Education reviewed two programs that just started this year that aim to help students who are falling behind in their reading skills. These programs, titled Read 180 and System 44, use a combination of personal reading time, teacher-directed reading, and computer-based programs to raise student reading levels.

“Read 180 is a web-based intervention program,” said Assistant Superintendent Karen Cagle, who is over curriculum instruction and professional learning. “It is not for all students. … It is an intervention for students who are struggling with reading.”

The Read 180 program is for students in grades 4 through 12 that need a boost to get to the reading level that corresponds with their grade level. It aims to increase reading comprehension, vocabulary, communication and writing skills. The program works side by side with the other new program, System 44.

“System 44 is a software, web-based intervention program, and it’s more basic,” said Cagle. “… It is for students who are still struggling to conceptualize the 44 sounds, and how they fit together to form words and reading (those words).”

System 44 is for students in grades 3 through 8 who score three or more grade levels behind on their lexile scores. These lexile scores come from the English Language Arts section of the Georgia Milestone Assessments. Students may start out in System 44 and later progress to Read 180. According to initial testing, 60 percent of students in the program, or 939 students from Troup County, score more than three grade levels behind. Program coordinators are optimistic about the programs’ progress so far.

“This has been exciting,” said Gail Sherman, the Read 180 and System 44 coach. “… (The computer program) is adaptive technology which means if I am on a computer, and Mrs. Cagle is on the computer, and I’m reading at a second grade level, the computer adapts to the answers I give. If she is on a fifth grade level, it adapts, so that it appears like we are doing the same thing, but we’re not.”

Teachers at the elementary, middle, and high schools were taught to use the programs in July and were given additional training in September once they had actually seen how the program worked for students. Currently, there are 1,376 students in Read 180 and 440 students in System 44.

“There is definitely a need for some intervention to assist those students to get to where they need to be, so that they can do the work in science, do the work in social studies, and so forth,” said Albert Morton, program manager.

The programs have received funding from the school board as well as the Callaway Foundation. This funding went toward hardware, software and teacher training for implementation of the program.

The program has faced several setbacks in its implementation, like lag time on computers caused by an old firewall system and the realities of scheduling at different grade levels. The school board approved the purchase order for an iBoss Secure Web Gateway from Howards Technology Solutions for $115,360 at Thursday’s meeting that they hope will help solve the current issues while maintaining a stable web environment for students.

“It’s a good program, and we hope to make it a success,” saidboard member Ted Alford. “We are working hard at it, anyway.”

The board expects to review the results for the programs’ success for the first half of the school year in January when the results of December assessments should be available, but the program coordinators are monitoring the progress of the programs closely using reports from teachers, school monitoring, and district meetings all on a weekly basis.