Those who participate in Nashville’s public school Reading Recovery program tend to be passionate.
“We’ve got so much evidence that this works,” said Jill Speering, the district’s Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, based at Cora Howe Elementary School. “It will change the direction of kids’ lives.”
The program — which is currently administered at 13 Metro schools — targets first-graders with the lowest reading scores. The program is small, but of the 114 kids who received one-on-one Reading Recovery tutoring in the last school year, 72 percent went on to pass the district’s reading benchmarks.
Reading Recovery was developed in New Zealand, and is implemented in schools around the United States. It emphasizes reading for meaning, in addition to sounding out phonics, which also helps kids utilize reading skills in other classes.
Fans of Reading Recovery say early intervention is a powerful thing.
Speering points to research backing up the performance of Reading Recovery. A Journal of Educational Psychology study that included MNPS found Reading Recovery intervention could reduce the number of first-graders who appear to need long-term literacy support from 17 percent to 5 percent of the measured cohort.
Reading Recovery proponents say the program makes a big difference in terms of the population considered by MNPS to be in need of special education — Speering said over-identification of kids for these programs can happen when kids lag behind as readers, and subsequently lag behind in comprehension of material in other subjects and develop cover-up behaviors that can be disruptive or self-destructive. MNPS, as a district, typically does not refer kids to special education classrooms prior to the first-grade.
Another population that can be dramatically affected by Reading Recovery is students who are English Language Learners (ELL). Speering said ELL kids who have finished Reading Recovery have passed English-language reading benchmarks for their grades, and taken their skills home to teach siblings and even parents.
Despite the program’s success, it has a small presence in Metro schools. Last year, 114 kids received individual tutoring, and 455 received help through small Reading Recovery groups. The district currently has five Reading Recovery positions paid for by federal Title I funds. The district pays for other Reading Recovery teachers.
MNPS also has a number of reading specialists on staff, who serve kids through the fourth-grade.
Another challenge is finding and training the staff. Teachers must be certified to serve as Reading Recovery instructors, and the certification process requires a year of weekly classes — it counts as nine post-graduate hours from Tennessee State University, where Speering serves as an adjunct professor.
Teachers in training typically pay for the first three credit hours themselves, and the tab for the rest of the tuition is picked up by local philanthropies.
Speering is proposing a plan to encourage some of the district’s reading specialists to also participate in Reading Recovery. As reading specialists have after-school duties, working in both programs would be the equivalent of holding one full- and one part-time job, Speering said. As such, Speering proposes that a supplement of $6,000 be paid annually to teachers who serve both roles.
But another barrier is the fact that at MNPS, as opposed to districts including Williamson County, the program exists at the discretion of individual principals. The Reading Recovery program at Taylor-Stratton was curtailed when a new principal was assigned there, leading to one parent — a single father named Mike Gilbert — to address members of the Board of Education at a meeting during budget season.
District spokesperson Olivia Brown said Reading Recovery is one of many programs schools can opt to include. And principals have the authority to direct their federal dollars to the programs they believe will best serve their students.
“It’s a school decision,” Brown said.