Reading Recovery Program Shows Results in Berkeley Schools

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday October 05, 2007

Alisha, a shy 6-year-old from Nepal, cannot recognize or write her own name.  

She also gets confused between the words “dog” and “dad,” as well as among a dozen other similar words. 

The Berkeley public school first-grader showed improvement during her recent Reading Recovery lesson, an early intervention literacy program that helps children who are struggling to read and write at grade level. 

Starting this fall, elementary school teachers in the Berkeley Unified School District are being trained in Reading Recovery after an eight-year hiatus of the program from the district. 

The current training will also include special education teachers for the first time, allowing interaction with more students. 

“All the children in the reading recovery program have been identified by their kindergarten teachers as being far below basic,” said district literacy coach Tom Prince, who also doubles up as the reading recovery teacher-leader. 

Developed by Dame Marie Clay from the University of Auckland, Reading Recovery has been called an effective intervention strategy by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Prince told the Planet that the reintroduction of the training program was a response to the change in the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act which allowed special education teachers to work with children who have difficulties and offer them an intervention before they officially went into special education. 

“What they are hoping is that a student gets a high quality intervention for a period of time so that they can make progress in class,” Prince said, as he observed a training session Tuesday from behind a one-way screen at Malcolm X Elementary School. 

“It takes a maximum of 20 weeks to get to the classroom average level. The program works because we only train really experienced classroom teachers who have already had successful literacy training. The one-on-one enables teachers to find the competencies each child has and without wasting any time helping them move from the things they know to the next step.” 

Funding from the district as well as the individual school sites helped to build a model classroom at Malcolm X complete with desks, blackboards and other first grade paraphenalia. 

Every Tuesday, 11 teachers face the one-way glass which looks into 108B—the tiny classroom wired for sound— and scribble notes enthusiastically. 

“Is the child engaged?” asked Prince, as Emerson literacy coach Jamie Carlson read aloud from the book “What Can Fly” and gave sound prompts to Alisha, who speaks English as a second language. 

“She’s not clear about her verbs,” pointed out Ellen Bernstein, the reading recovery teacher at Malcolm X who has taught the program for eight years. 

At the end of her kindergarten year, Alisha had scored zero on text knowledge. “Now that she’s in Reading Recovery, within just a matter of weeks she will be at level 3, which is the required level,” Prince said. 

Carlson praised the program. “I have been in the classroom for years and I know you don’t have the kind of strength there you need to give individual students,” she said. “Teachers are thrown into the classroom with a year’s training and that is not enough. Staff development is hit or miss.” 

The program, offered to children who were at the bottom 20 percent of their kindergarten class in the Berkeley public schools for the last nine years, has helped 75 percent of them catch up to the classroom average.  

Bernstein said that she had left the Oakland Unified School District because it had discontinued Reading Recovery. 

“I am glad Berkeley understands the importance of individualized programs,” she said. “I have never had a child who made no progress in Reading Recovery.” 

John Muir principal Gregory John said that the program had helped kids perform well in reading in the district’s Developmental Reading Assessment. 

Research has shown that Reading Recovery reduces the achievement gap. “Ninety percent of the kids in our program are African American or poor or speak another language,” Prince said. “Reading Recovery doesn’t fix everything for everybody, but It’s the best first step they can get. Because the effects of poverty are so great on children, they need additional support as they go on to second and third grades.”