FD kids develop reading skills

Fort Dodge elementary students are developing their reading skills using the Fountas and Pinnell assessment system.

Fountas and Pinnell is an A through Z, 26-level system, with kindergarten through fourth grade being levels A through S.

“We assess our students three times a year to see what level they’re at, and then based on this assessment system we have book rooms,” Rosie Ellendson, Fort Dodge Community School District literacy coach, said. “Using this system, a student tests out at, say, a level K. Then we go into the book room and we pick out a level K book and they would be in level K small group instruction.”

Stacey Cole, FDCSD director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, advocates the small group approach.

“Fountas and Pinnell is very much research-based and very much a direction the district should continue to go,” Cole said. “Small group reading is definitely an essential part of a literacy block that includes both small group reading and whole group reading to really meet the needs of all students.”

For assessment, a student reads a book and the teacher conducts a running record. The teacher marks all the words the student reads correctly.

“They get a percentile of how they read the words based on how their accuracy is,” Ellendson said. “We have a strong criteria. They have to have a 95 percent for accuracy, and we also have comprehension. We have another part that is really important, called self-correction. Our ultimate goal is, for every error they miss, that they correct that many. Our self-correction rate, we want that to be a one-to-one ratio.”

Students are assessed to see what level they’re at, and then assessed again to see if they’ve improved.

“After we assess them all, we look at all the data,” Ellendson said, “and say these kids here are a J and these kids are at a level K. After that, we have to narrow it down. We have to look at words per minute to get them on target. If they pass the J, we look at that second piece, words per minute, and get them really where they need to be. We might have level K kids who are reading at 95 words per minute, and we might have level K kids who are reading at 42 words per minute. Then the 42 words per minute are going to be in a group.”

The district formerly used basal readers, anthology textbooks of short stories written for the entire class.

“It’s kind of written at one level,” Ellendson said. “Say we’re looking at fourth grade. Fourth-grade levels are Q, R, S levels. How it used to be with basals is everyone would be looking at a Q. That’s probably only five kids in the class who can read at a Q. The rest of the kids are either higher or lower, so you’re only serving five kids. By doing it this way, we’re meeting all the needs of our kids.”

According to Ellendson, it is important to develop reading skills at an early age.

“If we can catch them and do those interventions and get them up to speed before grade 2, that’s the ultimate goal,” she said. “Sometimes they slip through the cracks and we don’t always catch them, but if we can catch them early that’s the best way to do it.”