To say the amazing improvement Myracle Toney made in reading this past year is a miracle not only would be a poor pun on her name, but it would ignore the reason she and the rest of the folks at Forrest Road Elementary School eagerly provide.
It’s called Achieve3000, and Forrest Road leads the Muscogee County School District’s 12 highest-needs schools that have used the computerized reading program since it was implemented in October 2015 for $630,000 over three years.
As a fourth-grader at the beginning of last school year, Myracle’s reading level, expressed by a Lexile score was 385, meaning she was reading at a second-grade level. Now her Lexile score is 790, and she is on pace to be at 850, the state guideline’s level for fifth-graders.
Myracle, 10, explained her reading achievement’s transformation this way: “I was terrible at reading. My dad had tried so hard to help me, and it was not working. So when I first started Achieve3000, it kind of boosted my confidence to actually help myself read better.”
And so it has school-wide at Forrest Road and district-wide in MCSD.
Forrest Road’s average Lexile score has zoomed by 142 points, from 598 in 2015 to 749 in 2017, as measured by the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, the state’s standardized tests.
Measuring all of the district’s Achieve3000 schools together, MCSD improved its average Lexile scores from 469 to 542 in 2015-16 and from 560 to 642 in 2016-17 when comparing the pre-test and post-test levels, according to the presentation MCSD executive director of preK-12 curriculum and instruction Lorrie Watt gave the Muscogee County School Board during its Sept. 18 meeting.
The number of hours MCSD students spent on Achieve3000 during school hours totaled 317,812 in 2015-16 and more than tripled to 1,022,594 in 2016-17. The percentage of students logging in outside of school hours was 57 percent in 2015-16 and 59 percent in 2016-17.
That work seems to have produced positive results. All but one of the 12 MCSD schools using Achieve3000 through the first two years of its implementation improved their average Lexile score by double digits. District-wide, MCSD improved its average Lexile score in each grade Achieve3000 is used (grades 3-8).
Achieve3000 is a Web-based system that delivers differentiated instruction in nonfiction reading and writing. On a computer, students in a class read the same content in news articles from the Associated Press and National Geographic, but Achieve3000, headquartered in Lakewood, N.J., tailors the complexity of the text to each student’s reading level.
The reading levels in Achieve3000 are expressed through Lexiles. The Lexile scale measures a text’s complexity and a person’s reading ability so the student can comprehend at least 75 percent of the text, a balance between understanding and challenging material. The students take an exam that sets their initial Lexile level. That level increases or decreases based on how well they do on the computerized lessons.
Georgia’s standards for public schools assume students will read on at least a 1300 Lexile level by 12th grade. The average U.S. high school senior graduates with a 920 Lexile level, according to Achieve3000.
The school level
Stephanie Dalton, in her fifth year as Forrest Road’s principal, said reading was “a weakness school-wide” when she arrived there in 2013. According to the Georgia Department of Education’s standards, roughly half of Forrest Road’s students couldn’t read on grade level then. “Now,” Dalton said, “probably 90 percent of our students are reading on grade level or more.”
The problem was similar to other schools throughout the district, Dalton said: Without a consistent reading curriculum, teachers often developed their own, delivering a hodgepodge of strategies and producing a hodgepodge of results.
Achieve3000 is one of the initiatives MCSD has implemented to improve reading achievement since the school board hired superintendent David Lewis in July 2013 from Polk County, Fla., where he was an associate superintendent. The curriculum Reading Wonders, approved by the school board in December 2013 for grades K-5, cost $1,755,022 over two fiscal years. In return, the district received $5,126,230 in free materials.
“With our students, we knew they all did well just reading fiction, but when it came to reading informational text, that’s where our students had some issues,” Dalton said, “and Achieve3000 focuses on reading for information.”
The weekly goal is for each student to read two articles and score at least 75 percent on the corresponding Achieve3000 comprehension test.
Forrest Road has imbedded Achieve3000 into the computers in the classroom center stations and into the twice weekly computer lab time for each class. Last year, Forrest Road had a 2-to-1 computer-to-student ratio in grades 3-5, Dalton said. This year, the ratio is 1-to-1, she said. In second grade, Forrest Road’s classrooms have approximately four desktop computers and five Netbooks.
Students also can work on Achieve3000 in the computer lab on their own time before school in the morning, in an after-school tutorial program and at home on their own computer device.
“We had to learn how to integrate Achieve3000 with the standards we teach,” said Forrest Road fourth-grade English language arts teacher Connie Thebaud. “They also have the lessons that can correlate with the standards. So instead of making it a separate lesson, we integrated it into the lessons we were currently teaching.”
When the Forrest Road teachers learned their school led the district in Achieve3000 improvement, Dalton said, “They were ecstatic. … Now they understand, when you work on the work, you start to see the success and feel the success. Everybody wants to be part of the success, including the parents and children.”
Thebaud added, “As an educator, it makes us want to utilize the program even more, because we see that it is effective.”
But that wasn’t the initial reaction, Thebaud admitted. Wary of being required to implement yet another new program in a condensed amount of time with hyped expectations, Thebaud, a 14-year educator, was impressed with the potential when Dalton demonstrated Achieve3000 to the teachers. “We could see how it could really promote their growth,” she said.
Now, instead of the program being a burden, Thebaud said, “It feels like a necessity, because we really need something that pushes these kids to the next level of reading comprehension. … If I had to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it a 10.”
Achieve3000 bills itself as “the leader in online differentiated instruction, serving millions of students worldwide,” according to its website. “Over 15 years, the company has been reaching students at their precise Lexile reading levels to deliver significant reading gains – often double-to-triple the expected gains.”
Because the reading materials is all nonfiction, Dalton noted, “the students are learning about other topics and a lot of relevant information.”
The student level
Indeed, Myracle, now an honor roll student, noticed her improved reading also has helped her perform better in her other subjects. “Everything is easier now,” she said, then added with a laugh. “My brain starts to think more, instead of going blah.”
No wonder Myracle said she likes reading at least 30 minutes each day at home. She smiled and said, “Now, my dad is very happy.”
Because each article in Achieve3000 comes with comprehension questions, Myracle said, she has learned how to distinguish between the essential and nonessential information in a text. Amauri Williams, another Forrest Road fifth-grader, likes how the comprehension questions in Achieve3000 help him be a better test-taker.
“When you’re taking a test,” he said, “you’ve got to eliminate certain answers you know aren’t right to get the right answer.”
Achieve3000 also has math questions related to the article.
“The math is awesome,” said, Amauri 10.
He appreciates Achieve3000 letting him read at his own pace.
“You don’t have to hear everybody reading out loud,” he said. “That’s annoying. You cannot concentrate.”
Achieve3000 also has informed Amauri that the approximate Lexile level he needs to achieve his career goal of becoming an electrical engineer is 1300. He’s well on his way, at 850 now, soaring from 413 a year ago.
For college and career readiness, the Lexile bands range from the following levels in these grades:
▪ Grade 1, Lexile 190-530
▪ Grades 2-3, Lexile 420-820
▪ Grades 4-5, Lexiles 740-1010
▪ Grades 6-8, Lexile 925-1185
▪ Grades 9-10, Lexile 1050-1335
▪ Grades 11-12, Lexile 1185-1385.
Even the typing that students must do to answer Achieve3000 questions gives them practice for the state’s computerized standardized tests.
“My babies can type,” Thebaud declared with pride.
Thebaud’s fourth-graders this year range in reading level from below kindergarten to high school – which is impossible for one teacher to ensure each student is receiving the attention they need. That’s another reason why Thebaud cherishes this program.
“It’s differentiated learning at its best,” Thebaud said. “And the kids love it, because they see their success. They ask to go on the program.”
Dalton hands out prizes to students who score well on Achieve3000. “They love Blow Pops,” she said. She also gives them pencils emblazoned with this message: “My principal is proud of me.”
ACHIEVE 3000 RESULTS
This chart shows the average two-year gain in Lexile levels, measured by the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, for the Muscogee County School District schools that implemented the Achieve3000 reading program in 2015. All schools listed are elementary schools except Baker and Eddy middle schools.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Note: For an additional $940,000 over three years, MCSD added 24 more schools in July 2016 to the Achieve3000 reading program: Allen, Blanchard, Brewer, Dimon, Dorothy Height, Gentian, Hannan, Johnson, Key, Midland, North Columbus, Reese Road, River Road, St. Marys Road, Waddell, Wesley Heights and Wynnton elementary schools and Arnold, East Columbus, Fort, Midland, Richards, Rothschild and Veterans Memorial middle schools. In April 2017, MCSD expanded Achieve3000 to 54 schools districtwide for a total expense of $2.2 million over three years, $733,333 per year.
MCSD AVERAGE LEXILE SCORES
This chart shows how much the Muscogee County School District’s average Lexile scores improved by grade level during the two years it has implemented the Achieve3000 reading program, as measured by the Georgia Milestones Assessment System.
EXPECTED LEXILE BAND