Teachers, Parents Praise New Reading Program In Pennsylvania School District For Helping Struggling Students Increase Their Test Scores

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Within months the number of children whose reading skills were deficient dropped by more than a third with help from StudyDog, an interactive learning program for elementary schools.

Our students were not making any type of progress. ... We have to prepare our students for them to be successful in the 21st century. I think the key is that you need to keep up with technology.

As the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in one of the most diverse school districts in Pennsylvania, Dr. Catherine Sweeney needed a way to boost the progress of her high-risk student population. Then, one of her teachers discovered StudyDog, an interactive reading program designed for elementary schools.

“Our students were not making any type of progress,” Sweeney explained. “We have to prepare our students for them to be successful in the 21st century. I think the key is that you need to keep up with technology.”

The Pocono Mountain School District faced several challenges with more than half of the district’s roughly 10,000 students economically disadvantaged. About 21 percent of the students had learning disabilities and 5 percent were learning English for the first time.

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Forty percent of kindergarteners in the Pocono Mountain School District did not possess basic phonemic skills when they entered the school system last fall. The lack of those basic skills makes it incredibly difficult for students to learn phonics at the primary level. But using Web-based software from StudyDog, teachers tailored interactive learning programs to the specific needs of each child.

“We have been extremely pleased with the program,” Sweeney said.

After testing StudyDog last spring in classes for children with special needs, administrators rolled out the program for all students in kindergarten through second grade.    

“We got some great response from teachers,” Sweeney said. “It really is a program that the students can work on independently.”

Nationally certified teacher Joanne Chambers praised the reading program. She said learning modules could be customized for each student’s needs. Instructors could even fine tune lessons to keep struggling students from getting discouraged if they did not succeed the first time.

“[StudyDog] is calibrated so you don’t see a child getting frustrated and wanting to quit the program,” Chambers explained. “They always find success because the program recalibrates back to their individual learning level.”

Fun graphics and characters helped motivate children to want to learn, she said.

“They’re very much accustomed to learning that way. Our kids are digital learners because that is what they know,” Chambers said. “Sometimes the kids even fight over getting on to StudyDog.”

According to teacher Joanne Whelan, “StudyDog is a quality program that charts students’ progress as well as students’ areas of need. It is truly a way to differentiate instruction for students.”

Parents said they appreciated how easy StudyDog was to use and personalize for each child. Parents used the program to monitor their children’s reading progress from home.

“We have not spoken to anyone who does not absolutely love the program,” Sweeney said.

With test scores slipping, the school district needed a program aligned with state reading standards, which also stressed phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension.

Educators also wanted the results reported in real time. StudyDog’s digital dashboard allowed teachers to monitor the activity and progress of any student any time.

StudyDog began as a pilot program for about 60 children in the Pocono Mountain School District. About 1,900 students in the district eventually used StudyDog in the classroom.

“It was so successful that it just blossomed,” Sweeney said.

Last fall, reading skills for 35 percent of the students in kindergarten through second grade were labeled “non-proficient.” But the number dropped 12 percentage points after the schools used StudyDog for four months. This year, nearly 1,200 StudyDog students had significantly improved their reading skills, Sweeney said.

“These numbers speak volumes about how effective StudyDog is at helping children learn to read,” StudyDog CEO Deme Clainos said. “I’m proud of success stories like this. They are the reason we created StudyDog in the first place.”

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Pat Parkinson
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