Nearly 100 pre-k students in Texas have reason to be proud of their newfound reading and language skills. IDEA Pharr Academy in Pharr, Texas introduced a pre-kindergarten pilot program in the fall of 2014 featuring Direct Instruction programs with the goal of reducing the achievement gap and ensuring students begin kindergarten on grade level. 80% of Pharr Academy’s students speak Spanish as their first language, and nearly all students, 97.3%, come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
The year began with eight groups of students in Español to English and four more groups in DISTAR Language. Pharr’s goal for the half-day pilot program was for all students to complete Español to English or DISTAR by the end of the year and be primed for starting Reading Mastery Signature Edition (RMSE) language and reading programs in the fall. With over 30 instructional days remaining until year’s end, 66 of the 99 pre-k pilot program students had already started RMSE K – some had completed over 60 lessons! The other 33 students were finishing up Español to English and were a few lessons away from being ready to placement test for RMSE.
The Battle of City Springs Epilogue tells the story of a school in a high-poverty area of a large U.S. city that experienced years of failure before implementing the full immersion model of Direct Instruction. Until Baltimore’s City Springs Elementary started implementing the full immersion model of Direct Instruction in 1996, the school was considered to be the epitome of failure. Over 90 percent of the students were (and still are) eligible for free or reduced lunch. Academic performance was at sub-basement levels. No students in the 3rd grade or the 5th grade passed the Maryland state test, the MSPAP, in either mathematics or writing. The Abell Foundation rated City Springs as the 2nd lowest performing school in the city of Baltimore.
Gering Public Schools, a small district in northwest Nebraska, used to suffer from an achievement gap in reading. In 2004, 36 percent of all Hispanic students in second grade met fluency benchmarks compared to 59 percent of all white students in the district's three elementary schools. Low literacy performance was also a problem at the district's sole junior high school.
That was before the district implemented the comprehensive Direct Instruction model with the support of the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI). Now the achievement gap in reading has been closed. Over three-fourths of all students meet second grade fluency benchmarks, with a higher percentage of Hispanic students meeting benchmarks than white students! At the junior high school, the need for remedial reading programs has declined drastically as students are much more able to comprehend content area texts.
Direct Instruction (DI) is often used to help students who are struggling academically. DI can be used to accelerate the learning of higher performing students, too. The 16-minute DVD, Helping Kids Soar: Children Reaching Their Full Potential with Direct Instruction, portrays two schools in different parts of the country that have used DI successfully with all children, including high performing students: Emerson Elementary in Alliance, Nebraska and Fickett Elementary in Atlanta, Georgia.
A Review of Results from Two Middle Schools Implementing DI
The middle school grades are the last chance to customize instruction for large groups of students struggling to meet grade-level expectations. Schools serving these grades also often experience an influx of large numbers of students who can’t access content courses. Generally, struggling students have limited reading and/or math proficiency that limits their understanding of science, social studies and other courses in which foundational skills are applied. If students don’t receive instruction in middle school that increases their reading and math skills, they will have even more difficulty accessing content course material when they reach high school.
Once students reach high school, a system of credit requirements complicates school-wide efforts to address the skills of struggling student. Most high schools cannot offer remedial courses for credit. The middle school setting allows teachers and administrators to respond to students’ needs with customized solutions that target fundamental skills in reading and mathematics without the need to earn credits for graduation requirements.