Bright Spots showcase the work that Grade-Level Reading communities are doing to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016.  Today’s feature – highlighting the importance of using data – is the first in a periodic series of “summer” Bright Spots, in advance of Summer Learning Day 2014 on June 20, sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), a GLR Campaign partner. Continue reading the Bright Spot below or download the file.

After joining the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the southern Florida city of Delray Beach soon pinpointed one of its biggest challenges: obtaining the data to develop a “data-rich” plan and gauge progress, especially in reversing summer reading loss.

“Nobody tracked summer learning. That was a huge hurdle,” says Janet Meeks, the city’s education coordinator and the GLR community lead.

The city-focused GLR Campaign also would need to get data from its county-run school district. With nine schools, Delray Beach is part of the Palm Beach County School District, one of the nation’s largest, with 187 schools in many cities.

Delray Beach made its case for data sharing and the school district agreed to provide crucial data and analysis that has helped Delray Beach better determine its needs and gauge progress. A key selling point, says Meeks, was Delray Beach’s GLR Campaign involvement and Community Solutions Action Plan (CSAP).

 “We used the CSAP as a tool to go to the district for help with tracking students and collecting data that were critical to see if our pilot programs were making any difference,” says Meeks. “Now that we are getting positive results, it’s becoming an easier sell when we need to get things done and it’s making an impact.”

And now, she says, other nonprofits and communities in the school district are eager for more data and summer learning programs. “We’ve started this synergy,” says Meeks. “Delray Beach has been acting as a beacon for Palm Beach County, at a small grassroots level.”

To get data to measure the effects of its summer learning program, the district helped Delray Beach find and use a suitable tool to assess key reading behaviors and skills — Running Records of reading from Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.

Then because the effort involved sharing confidential student information, lawyers from the city and the district worked out a data-sharing agreement via a Memorandum of Understanding. The district agreed to gather the data and its statisticians provided analysis — critical resources that Delray Beach, alone, did not have.

The analysis found “substantial improvement” between spring and fall 2013 in the percentage of proficient students. For the statistical analysis, 166 participating students in kindergarten through fourth grade were tested before and after the summer program. The percentage of “early fluent” readers went from 28 to almost 35 and the “fluent” readers from 12 to 16 percent. Ninety-five percent of the students tested were from low-income homes.

Since 2012, Delray Beach has worked with several organizations to implement summer reading programs at local camps. In summer 2013, an arts integrated reading curriculum — that combines reading a book out loud with a craft project — was added into daily activities at five summer camps, two run by the city, three run by a nonprofit.

Approximately 600 students received the same two hours of integrated academics four days a week during the eight-week summer camp. The camp was provided for free to 120 students at a particularly high-needs elementary school, thanks to $200,000 worth of resources provided by a collaborative local partnership. The kindergartners also received books via the city’s Kindergarten Backpack program. This school’s students were among those assessed.

“The takeaway for this initiative is that getting books in kids’ hands and providing those academic enhancements over the summer does stem summer learning loss,” says Meeks. “What the GLR Campaign is telling us to focus on is true and it’s happening in our community.”

Delray Beach also found it revealing to tease out specific information on its schools from the districtwide statistics. For example, while the district overall showed positive trends in third-grade reading proficiency in recent years, Delray Beach’s trends were less positive.

“What the Campaign has done for us is it made us understand that using the data is really where you find out ‘Is it working?’ and where you need to tweak and course correct,” says Meeks.

For more information, contact Janet Meeks at 561-243-7231 or meeksj@mydelraybeach.com.

Photos: The City of Delray Beach

You can nominate a Bright Spot in your community by emailing Betsy Rubiner at brubiner@gradelevelreading.net

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