Reading Teachers Get On Same Google Page

Aliyya SwabynPhotoSabrina Breland’s Wexler-Grant teachers have managed to get more students reading at grade level—with 70 percent meeting their personal goals and 64 percent meeting the district benchmark—in part by using a Google Doc spreadsheet. Can that help schools citywide meet a challenge from the mayor?

Mayor Toni Harp recently issued the challenge to make New Haven “The City That Reads,” by getting at least half of New Haven Public School students reading at or above grade level.

The Board of Ed plans to do that in part by streamlining student literacy. At its most recent board meeting, school district staff presented a system for monitoring younger students’ progress in reading, using simple online programs to keep teachers, administrators and parents in the know. Breland, of Wexler-Grant School in Dixwell, and other principals have refined that system this year, with promising results, the district reported.

Superintendent Garth Harries has stressed the importance of pushing kids to read by the end of first grade, which correlates with academic and career success in later grades. This year’s New Haven School Change initiative include plans to increase parental engagement, build a community focus on literacy development, intervene early for struggling students and improve mid-year literacy assessments.

“At the end of first grade, if a student is not reading, the curriculum will accelerate away from them at that point,” Harries said.

Teachers of kindergarten through second grade now are expected to use Google Documents spreadsheets to keep monthly “running records” for each student in their classroom, Elaine Parsons and Lynn Brantley said in the presentation to the board last week. The data can then be easily aggregated and shared to help keep the student on track.

The spreadsheet is a “living document,” Brantley said. Every day, a teacher fills in one line of the spreadsheet for a different student, tracking each kid once per month so they have data points available over the course of the year. Factors tracked include a students’ reading accuracy, fluency, accuracy, ability to self-correct and method of understanding the text.

Before this system, teachers felt as though they were “duplicating record keeping.” They had no streamlined system for storing the data, said Tim Shortt (pictured), a second-grade teacher at Worthington Hooker. Now it takes “two to three minutes to actually” input that data, crucial especially for kindergarten teachers, who have “a lot of data and testing they do,” Shortt said.

He told the Independent that he does not use Google Docs for his second graders, but does have a similar online system for his running records. “Every K-2 teacher should,” he said.

Not all schools work in the same way to track early grade reading, Harries said at the board meeting. “We do have schools that do some different things. We do allow that, but we also monitor it really closely,” he said.

Mayor Harp said she hopes this will fit into her larger plan to get New Haven kids reading. “We’re going to be paying some attention to your success at implementing this model,” she said.

Board President Carlos Torre said he was worried about the “academization of kindergarten,” which leaves the kids little time to play. But Imma Canelli, deputy superintendent, said her staff has been looking at ways to “instruct through play” at schools including at Wexler-Grant.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoThe technology makes it easier for teachers to make sure each individual student is reaching his or her goals, said Principal Breland (pictured). “It keeps the data neatly organized for the future.” Literacy teachers and staff also use an online system to create intervention plans for students consistently not meeting reading benchmarks. That system was “more cumbersome last year,” Breland said. “We spent more time inputting it than talking about the data.”

But now, school staff can focus more on the students. When parents want to know specific information about their children’s progress, “the information is readily available,” Breland said.

The point is for everyone involved in tracking a student’s reading to be on the same page. “We’re not going to have a surprise in June or a surprise in January,” Canelli said.

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posted by: Puhleez on March 5, 2015  9:15am

Oh please.  This Google doc system may make things easier for the people downtown sitting in an office all day.  For the teachers it is extra work. it is not user friendly due to its massive size.  It took me at least an hour.  This would be fine if I could use it to plan instruction and analyze data but the unweildy nature of the document makes it useless.  I like, most teachers I’ve spoken to create, my own spreadsheets that are actually useful in addition to the Google doc.  Mr short says it took him 2-3 minutes but then goes on to say he doesn’t use the Google doc.  Why are the rest of us required to use the Google doc but he is not?  And fyi teachers have always kept their student information readily available. That has always been a (common sense) requirement.  Who spent hours inputting data without discussing it in the old system? Not the teachers.

posted by: Mary Brown on March 5, 2015  9:21am

Congratulations to Mrs. Breland and her staff. It is good to hear that Wexler students are achieving their reading goals. It is way too important that students are able to access information by reading at grade level on their own!

posted by: nhteach on March 5, 2015  10:23am

In this article, there seems to be some confusion. Tracking data is not the same as teaching kids to read. Sure, it’s important to know information about students in order to teach them to read, but putting this information into an overly long google doc for the people downtown to aggregate is not going to make my students learn to read any better. What will help them? Giving me (the teacher) more time to actually teach my students, rather than constantly be giving assessments and tracking data that I have limited time to actually analyze before it becomes outdated. As an elementary school teacher, I have been keeping important data on my students for many years before google docs came along.

posted by: TeachersWantToTeach on March 5, 2015  2:36pm

Well said Puhleez and nhteach!  And in relation to Google docs, I hope I don’t have to give up another 3 hours of valuable teaching time to attend more running records trainings (the trainings I have already attended this year have been a repeat of one another…only a different book is used as an example).  Considering we have been keeping running records on students since September, I don’t see why they are continuing to treat teachers as if we have never seen them before.  Think of all the small group instruction/individualized instruction we could be doing during that 3 hours of wasted time.

posted by: Syne on March 5, 2015  7:52pm

It is helpful to have a streamlined way of keeping data. On the other hand, why collect and record running record data monthly on every student?  Perhaps it makes sense for students in need of intervention, but if a student is on grade level, spend the time with students who could use instruction.

posted by: timshortty on March 6, 2015  5:56am

Let me clarify what I actually said (or meant to say).  Every student has a google account through the district that can be used by students to do writing activities and share their work with teachers and classmates. I do not use this with my 2nd graders, I only use it to house data. Using googldocs is much more user friendly than SchoolNet.

posted by: Tom Burns on March 6, 2015  10:15pm

Who is keeping the data on how these youngsters play and enjoy school-let me know—

posted by: Tom Burns on March 6, 2015  10:24pm

Who is keeping the data on how these youngsters play and enjoy school-let me know—

Lets let teachers teach—no more data—none—except the kind that teachers have garnered forever by knowing their students—

The supposed need for accountability is the end of education—for it breeds fear and stymies teachers from taking risks——today we are just robots being measured by Corporate interests who have NO interest in our children—it ends here and it ends now—-our teachers must be given the chance to teach in their classroom the way that they want to—as professionals—for they are the superstars and our heroes—(certainly not the people so far away from the classroom making decisions about what should go on in the classroom)My thanks go out to my teachers , who put up with me yet made me who I am today-

posted by: JDoe on March 7, 2015  8:30am

Now that ECI is “tabled” we return you to our regularly scheduled program of pro-charter soft reportage…. Isn’t technology great?! First a pro PowerSchool article and now google docs. Great job NHI. More screens is the answer to inspiring kids. Big tech is a huge part of corporate reform as they fork more of your money to their buddies’ hardware and software companies. How about a story on the impending SBAC test and its designed high failure rate to further vilify CT public schools? How about an article on the data mining industry that seeks to monetize our kids? How about a piece on the increasingly secretive connections between private corporations and the NHPS? Nope. Move on. Nothing here. Maybe now is the time to take the “Independent” out of your name…

posted by: Conscience on March 7, 2015  9:34pm

Give me a break. Data is something that people away from the frontlines use to keep the people in the fight on the defensive and is also used to divert attention away from their inadequacy. Recording children reading grade level material at appropriate intervals and analyzing samples of student work is the best evidence of student proficiency. The current corporate balderdash (I could use another word, but children may be reading this) is ruining what was arguably the best public education system in the history of the world. If we had 100 Tom Burns, this mess would be over. Fight back teachers, parents, and administrators against the charteritis and Garthian nonsense that is engulfing our city. They care more about data than they do about kids. This may be the most disgusting period in education history minus the virulent racism during the segregation period. I am sick of lawyers running schools and charter schools. Why go to law school. They are like the butchers who would be surgeons because they like to cut. Mark my words, we will rue the day that Harries and Toll took over NHPS.

posted by: wbstar on March 8, 2015  9:15pm

I am a huge fan of running records. Have used them for years to GUIDE my instruction and know my students as readers. However, this ridiculous directive to use google docs to record numerous data points on my students is redundant. (I already have my own system for recording BOTH formal and informal data/observations/anectodal notes) Additionally, because I am expected monthly to complete running records on all of my 27 students there is no time for reading conferences or small group instruction. The reading department cares about compliance and filling in all the google doc cells- not whether my students love language, books, and reading. Reading workshop has become a running record factory. Lucy Calkins would die if she ever came to NH!

posted by: Teachergal on March 10, 2015  11:04am

Webstar makes excellent points. We are taking time away from our students by spending so much time recording data and working with students 1on 1. I watched an excellent teacher following the districts mandates recently while the rest of the 26 students struggled to complete an independent activity which many of the students did not understand. It is a CRIME what NHPS students are being made to do. This is all about politics not kids. Shame on NH!!!