Saturday, March 8, 2008

Student Fluency = More Money

Recently, much dialogue, in our primary school, has centered around DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). Phonological awareness, alphabetic principle, and fluency are the 3 Big Reading areas covered on this quick assessment. For example, in 2nd grade, the two parts of the test are nonsense words and timed oral reading. Results are used to measure a student's literacy development.

Why are we talking about this one assessment so much? Because, it has gone high stakes. Our district is using DIBELS in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade as the sole measure of a teacher's instructional ability toward performance pay. Teachers are placed in a silo based on their grade level, students are assessed within testing windows three times a year, and our students' growth is measured throughout the year. If you are one of the teachers in the top 20% of your silo for displaying the most student growth on DIBELS, you are one of the lucky ones, and you are rewarded with a bonus check. You heard me correctly, student fluency = more money!

Doesn't sound quite fair, that one timed assessment measuring only three of the five reading areas is used to gauge teacher's instructional ability, does it? Especially, when that test doesn't assess a student's comprehension, the ultimate goal of reading. But, for now, it is the measure my district has selected for handing out bonuses, and one I must learn to navigate within.
Therefore, as the 2nd grade literacy coach in my school, I felt compelled to build awareness among my teachers, and offer them suggestions to help students struggling with fluency. The first thing we did was hire a paraprofessional to implement Great Leaps, a saftey net program aimed to help students struggling with fluency. The one-on-one intervention requiring daily pull out was implemented by a paraprofessional who pulled select students for 3-5 minutes throughout the day. Though we were able to serve a select group of the students, we never feel like it is quite enough. We wished all students had this opportunity, but it was too time consuming for teachers to do.

Our Teacher Meeting discussions lead to ideas for more whole group shared reading activities, and we pulled the web based resources offered by DIBELS to help with whole group and small group instruction. Of course, we were looking for something more.

I questioned Kinder and 1st grade teachers, "What are you doing that we are not doing in 2nd grade?" One thing they said is that they spend 30 minutes a day on Skills Block, a component due to scheduling that we only have 10-15 minutes for. So, we began making scheduling changes for next year. In addition, one team of first grade teachers shared their unique idea--timed fluency passages for homework which would allow multiple readings of the same text. It added only one additional minute to a child's homework, but they felt like it helped their targeted students. It was one way to get all students repeated reading instruction without additional personnel. I shared the idea with my 2nd grade ELA teachers and they loved it.

Before weeks end, one self-directed teacher had taken the fluency homework on as her personal mission. She took a reading passage, retyped it, added numbers at the end of sentences indicating the number of words in that sentence, and even added a Monday through Friday chart at the bottom of her page to record wpm each night. She created a parent letter explaining her added fluency homework.

The basic idea of the fluency homework is for a student to do a one minute timed reading of a text. Timing can be done by a parent or older sibling. Then, the number of words read correctly are recorded in the chart for that day. Throughout the week, this same routine is repeated. On Friday the teacher (or parent volunteer) listens to each child read their passage and records how many wpm they read. At that time, the teacher decides whether the student gets this same passage for the next week, or a new passage. So far the results are showing promise.

Moreover, to improve, we've diligently analyzed our student's results compared to: previous years, the national average, schools with similar demographics, and our Kindergarten and 1st grade results. Knowing how we compare will allow us to measure how well our students are progressing, and hopefully will put my 2nd grade teachers in the running for some extra cash!


dayle said...

It is a shame that Performance Pay comes down to fluency, but at the same time, I applaud your teachers for owning it and brainstorming ways to improve reading fluency. Certainly fluency plays a part in comprehension. The most disappointing part of the 2nd grade situation is that since you are departmentatlized, the Math teachers' Performance Pay is also dependent on how well their Language Arts partner teaches fluency! While I believe that teachers who go above and beyond deserve extra pay, somehow this is not what I have in mind! dayle

Melanie Holtsman said...

I also think fluency practice at home is a great way to get parents to see the importance of all aspects of reading.

heidi said...

I stumbled across your blog while searching for "2nd grade fluency homework." My district has recently adopted the DIBELS model. At least we don't have bonus pay based on student performance--yet!
Like most teachers, I don't believe fluency is the best indicator of students' reading abilities, but that's what we're asked to focus on and it's an easy way for parents to help.
Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. And thanks to that motivated teacher for putting together weekly homework.
If you want, I'm happy to share the homework I've finished using your teacher's model. You can email me at
Thanks again!