“The continued investment in teacher training has meant that classroom instructors now have more, and better, tools, strategies, and knowledge to help students across the learning spectrum achieve literacy, while also boosting their confidence in reading,” said Christy Feldman, D11’s Elementary Literacy Specialist.

“The feedback we get is always fabulous,” Feldman said. “People learn so much, and they’re so excited to have it. They like the materials, they have loved the trainers that we have had; we have been very successful with it.”

Feldman works with 36 of the district’s elementary schools and helps to oversee D11’s READ (Reading to Ensure Academic Development) Act requirements, a state law that focuses on K-3 literacy, instructional programming and professional development, all for the betterment of reading. Among her duties is to ensure the district is complying with the READ Act, which includes using a portion of the funds the district receives through the Act for specific, literacy-based programs, such as IMSE.

In particular, Feldman said the district was looking for programs that would equip teachers with the knowledge they need to give students in the lowest reading quartile, who were lacking direct foundational reading skills, the type of instruction they needed to succeed. Simply put: The district wanted a program that empowered both teachers and students in reading.

“We know that our elementary teachers are coming in not as prepared as we’d like them to be out of college,” Feldman said.

“[Universities] just don’t go deep enough in teaching teachers how to teach reading, it’s more of a surface,” she said. “And a lot of teachers don’t have that foundational knowledge, they don’t know the rules, they don’t know why reading works the way it does. So we’re looking at how we can provide that information, too, to make sure all our teachers, especially K-1 have that foundational information.”

Literacy in Colorado

As is the case across the U.S., the state of literacy in Colorado needs improvement.

A recent “State of Literacy in Colorado 2017” report by Stand For Children, an education advocacy nonprofit, found that Colorado’s most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores revealed that less than 40 percent of the state’s fourth-graders were proficient in reading and literacy skills — a figure that nearly doubled for Black and Hispanic students.

“Although overall scores have improved over time, gaps in performance between different groups of students have not been significantly reduced since 1998,” according to the report.

When that essential groundwork for literacy isn’t properly laid or comprehended, the effects will continue to snowball into adolescence and adulthood, researchers said.

“Unfortunately, students who fall behind in the early grades are unlikely to catch up in the later grades. As struggling students stay in the education system past middle school and through high school, they often continue performing lower than those students who met expectations in the early grades.”

Of Colorado students who graduated during the 2015-16 school year, over 36 percent required college remediation, resulting in “tremendous costs to the state and students” — upwards of $70 million during the 2015-16 and 2014-15 school years alone.

Recent estimates from the report show that about 10 percent of adults in Colorado also “lack the most basic literacy skills.”

“Adult literacy is kind of a stepchild in Colorado,” said Dorothea Steinke, a board member of the Literacy Coalition of Colorado, a nonprofit focused on adult literacy that trains 70-100 educators and tutors serving the adult population a year, as well as provide resources for adult education classes. “There needs to be more of an investment in education in Colorado,” Steinke said, “ additional reading specialists, particularly, are needed.”

When those investments in reading and literacy are made early on, students will be better equipped with the proper skills and comprehension as an adult, she added.

While there is still work to be done, progress is being made at the foundational level, the report said.

“Through the READ Act, Colorado educators and students are making progress toward third grade reading proficiency,” but, for Colorado to see more improvement statewide, a more widespread investment in literacy must be done, the report concluded.

Three major gaps still remain, according to researchers. Implementation disparities among districts and schools, struggling students not being recognized as having a significant reading deficiency, and addressing the needs of adolescent struggling readers were all areas that required a deeper overhaul, the report noted.

“Research tells us the best way to teach reading,” according to the report’s authors. Scientifically-based methodologies that hinge on phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and reading comprehension are all key to completing the “last piece of the reading puzzle” — something Colorado Springs D11 has learned through its use of IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham.

D11’s Investment in IMSE, Literacy Paying Off

Feldman said she was first trained in Orton-Gillingham about 10 or 15 years ago when she was a first grade teacher working in an elementary school.

“I learned a ton,” she said. “I didn’t know there were syllable types of words, I didn’t know some of the phonics rules. It was a real eye-opener for me, and I had been teaching first grade for 9 years when I had the training.”

After then working as a building coach for three years, Feldman moved her way up to becoming the district’s Literacy Specialist.

While at first IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham training was only being offered to classroom teachers, Feldman said it’s now open to others who want to partake — and many do. Today there are educators trained in IMSE’s OG throughout the district’s elementary schools, middle and even high schools. The district’s last training was in January, which also included an offering of IMSE’s Intermediate course, as well.

“People were asking for it,” Feldman said. “People wanted more, they were telling us. They would say, ‘We want the next step. They’re telling us there are  more classes; we want more.’ That’s how we got hooked in with the Intermediate course this year.”

“We opened it up and offered it to our tutors and interventionists as well because they wanted to sign-up and come,” Feldman added.

Whether being used among younger students or high schoolers, Feldman said it was helping to make breakthroughs among “those kids who, for whatever reason, were lacking those foundational skills, and [educators] were desperate for a strategy that we knew worked for the kids.”

Both teachers fresh out of college and those who are career educators say the training works, too.

Kimberly Sasson-Crow started using IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham with her students in Colorado Springs.

Kimberly Sisson-Crow joined D11 as a special education teacher six years ago after spending four years teaching in an inpatient psychiatric hospital and 13 years working with students in the public school system who had severe emotional disabilities.

Throughout her career, Sisson-Crow said she’d taken literacy-based trainings before, but when heard that district offered educators to take IMSE’s training, she wanted to join.

“I asked to go to the training because I was looking for other tools to use,” she said. “I wanted to get some more background in the early stages of reading.”

Sisson-Crow said her students tended to struggle with concepts like blending, spelling and encoding and decoding.

She needed something to get through to them, and a better way to assess their abilities in specific areas.

“I thought [IMSE] offered a lot of good collaboration between blending the reading with the writing part, and the encoding and decoding,” she said. “A lot of our kiddos missed those early, beginning stages.. Whether they were in third, or fourth, or fifth grade, they didn’t capture those skills like a normal reader does. So being able to do a screener so you could see where the gaps were, I was really impressed by that.”

Today, Sisson-Crow now incorporates concepts and lessons she learned through her 30-hour Comprehensive training course during 30-minute groups, interjecting her own creativity into the instruction in ways that make learning to read fun and less intimidating, such as using letter tiles on a cookie sheet to see how words and sounds transform.

And, her work with IMSE is not done yet. Sisson-Crow has also signed up to take the Intermediate course.

“I really love the program,” Sisson-Crow said.

While Sisson-Crow is an experienced teacher with over 20 years experience in the classroom, new first-time teachers like Jasmine Vialpando are also seeing the immediate benefits of IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham training with her general education students.

Vialpando started her job with D11 mid-year in November, taking over a class of 20 second-graders. 

Jasmine Vailpando, a new second grade teacher in Colorado Spring’s D11 who has found success with her students using IMSE.

She trained in IMSE in January and began to incorporate what she learned into her whole group reading lessons three times a week, introducing new concepts and reviewing concepts in small groups, all while weaving in fun, multi-sensory components, such using sand or jell in a ziplock bag to help students spell out and see words.

“I thought the training was really beneficial,” Vailpando said. “They’d show you something…and you’d practice it enough where you could bring it back and remember.”

Jasmine Vailpando, a new second grade teacher in Colorado Spring’s D11, has found success with her students using IMSE.

Vialpando said her students have a mix of abilities, strengths, and struggles. Her class includes average learners, a few ESL students, a few special ed learners and some high achievers — and so far the training has had something for everyone.

“I thought that they would really struggle with it, but they get it,” she said. “They understand the concepts; I think they’re doing really well with it. I’ve noticed that some of my low readers have picked up on some new words just by doing the sound cards in the morning… they’re getting that repetition throughout the week.”

“I think they’re engaged,” Vailpando said. “Before I brought [IMSE’s OG] in, when I’d say, ‘Ok it’s time to start reading,’ you’d get the moans and groans.” But now when she tells them it’s reading time, the students ask for sand, cards, and drills, she said.

Her more advanced readers have also benefited from IMSE’s strategies, Vailpando said.

“My higher [readers] don’t really need the phonics quite as much, but I think it’s good for them to practice and stay fresh on those skills, and to understand, ‘Ok not only can I read that word, but I can produce a sound when asked. It’s solidifying the gap between, ‘I know it when I see it’ and, ‘I can produce it when I hear it.’”

“And if my low [readers] don’t pick up on a sound, my high ones do. …I do think that it’s beneficial for all of them.”

One student, in particular, has improved significantly since Vailpando first introduced IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham into the classroom, she said, especially when it comes to putting together vowel sounds that were once very challenging.

“I definitely know with her specifically it has helped her so much,” the teacher said.

So far, her student has earned the distinction of being the class’s “Most Improved” reader, Vailpando added.

Looking forward, Vialpando said she’s excited for the fall, which will be her first full year of teaching. That will also be her first opportunity to use her IMSE Orton-Gillingham training from the get-go, and she can’t wait to dig in with her students.

“I think it just helps them so much be able to constantly hear those sounds and go over them a couple times a week,” she said. “I plan to use it next year and from here on out.”