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Elementary program ‘personalizes’ learning

OBSERVER Photo by Anthony Dolce Fredonia Elementary School Principal Mark Drollinger, at right, talks to the Fredonia Board of Education and other administrators at this month’s board meeting.

By ANTHONY DOLCE

adolce@observertoday.com

The administration team at Fredonia recently gave an update on the elementary school’s new learning program, known as i-Ready.

Fredonia Superintendent Dr. Bradley Zilliox said Fredonia’s district goals included working more with students on an individual basis, which is a stark change from when he began teaching in the 1980s and ’90s.

“I was a teacher who planned a lesson,” said Dr. Zilliox. “I didn’t factor in the different skill sets of the kids who were in my class at the time. It was up to the students to comprehend that lesson and reach the goals. Over time, we started to understand the importance of who was in the class, both as learners and as people.”

The i-Ready program has been in the district for the last few years, and when Elementary School Principal Mark Drollinger first arrived at the school three years ago, there were select teachers using the program. But last year was when the i-Ready boom happened at Fredonia Elementary.

“We had the opportunity to pilot this at a selective nature,” Drollinger said. “We had about 60-70 percent of our teachers pilot this program. We ran the pilot for the whole year and we ran through some of the diagnostics and we made the decision as a building that we liked the program, we’ve seen growth in our students, and it’s made my job more efficient.

We figured we’d give this a shot.”

Drollinger said this year is the first year of full implementation, with all elementary students using the i-Ready program. What i-Ready is is an online reading program that sets itself to the needs of each individual student using it.

“Cookie cutter lessons don’t cut it anymore,” Drollinger said. “The diagnostic program helps us figure out the needs of each kid, and then what it does is personalizes the learning. Each student is first run through the diagnostic, it determines the needs, then it individualizes the lesson for each student.”

From there, the program monitors the progress of the students. If a student dips, the program will notify the corresponding teacher, then the teacher can give some remedial lessons to the student to help them out.

The i-Ready diagnostic is done by an adaptive assessment, which is given at the beginning, middle, and end of every year. The assessment lasts 45 minutes and continues the trend of being personalized to each student. Should a student begin answering questions easily, the computer will recognize that and tune the questions to be harder, if the need dictates.

“By the end of the test, every student has taken a unique test but the diagnostic tells the teacher the skills each student needs,” Drollinger said. “This program is useful for the teachers because it tells the teacher what they need.”

The program breaks down six different categories of Phonological Awareness, Phonics, High-Frequency Words, Vocabulary, Literature Comprehension, and Informational Text Comprehension. Within each domain are hundreds of lessons that can either be done on the computer, or printed off and done in a group setting.

The children are on for a minimum of 40 minutes per week, the three large assessments, then two larger assessments called growth measures, between the larger assessments. Drollinger noted the teachers were trained through BOCES, where they were walked through the program.

Currently, i-Ready is being used for reading in the elementary school, which also has an option for a math program. The math program is currently being used at the middle school, which Drollinger said could be due for a presentation at an upcoming Fredonia school board meeting.

Weighing the value that is added to a student’s lesson is what Zilliox values in regard to the i-Ready program. “There’s been a lot of research done about value added,” Zilliox said. “In the 10 months I spent with a student as a teacher, what value have I added to their academic life? And with i-Ready, it makes it very clear that when they start time with a specific teacher. … We can easily see the impact of that instruction and that teacher on the student, based on the beginning, middle, and end of year assessment.”

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