NES students show marked improvement

Shane Sellers

“Need good news on a Friday?” teased the subject line of Mary Myers’ Aug. 31 email to Newcastle Elementary School teachers and staff.    

Myers is the reading instructional facilitator for Weston County School District #1. The news she had to share exceeded “good” by a bunch. 

 “It’s huge!” said NES Principal Brandi Holmes.  

Meyers delivered her Friday morning bulletin in two sentences.  

“I just finished doing DIBELS testing on the 6th graders at the middle school,” she reported.  “This class is coming into the year 87 percent proficient!”  

She then credited the elementary school staff for making possible the noteworthy achievement.  

“The hard work and changes you have made over the past seven years are proving themselves,” she wrote before punctuating her announcement with a jubilant, “Congratulations!” to her colleagues.

Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (more commonly known as DIBELS) is a formal, standardized reading assessment that measures the development of reading skills from kindergarten through sixth grade. Newcastle students incur the testing at the beginning, middle, and end of each school year.  

“What DIBELS does best is identify the skills a student needs to get the words off the page,” Myers stated.

“If reading decoding — getting words off the page — isn’t automatic, then the reader doesn’t have the brain desk-space to think more deeply,” she explained.   “It’s hard to interpret meaning, analyze, or think critically when the (student’s) brain is busy recognizing the words on the page.”  

Myers says reading should be automatic, not fast. Accuracy comes first, then fluency. Sustained skill progression, “continued honing” Meyer calls it, leads to accuracy, then fluency. Proficiency, the all-important ability to “get words off the page” is the primary objective. 

So what does a beginning of the school year 87 percent proficiency on a DIBELS test mean? It means that the vast majority of the class is at or above the benchmark that was projected for them according to previous DIBELS testing. It means most students are likely to achieve their next literacy goals, and most likely will need only practice to sustain their reading proficiencies.  

Though Holmes was pleased and proud with the school’s achievement, and while the district chief reading instructor readily agrees that the news was, “Huge!” Holmes, was nonetheless circumspect about its significance.    

“It is tremendous growth,” she admitted. “We’ll have to work hard to sustain it.”

Indeed, the hard work began long ago. This year’s sixth-grade class is the first to incur the full impact of a district-directed shift in teaching philosophy that was implemented at the beginning of the 2011-12 academic year. The move was a doubling down on teaching kids how to “get the words off the page.”

Myers explained the shift in tactics.

“Since 2011, teaching has been more precise, featuring goals and strategies targeted at individual students. Students are in the hands of skilled and talented teachers who monitor student progress every two weeks.”  

Mary Meyers summed up her explanation of DIBELS testing. 

“DIBELS is the starting point. It’s a universal screening with lots of sub tests that tell us many things. DIBELS determines for us if tracking and remediation is needed (for a reading student), then gives us strategies to support the needs of individual students,” she explained.

Meyers is a reading cheerleader. She exudes grand enthusiasm for helping young children “get the words off the page” and she embraces the DIBELS screening and monitoring assessment as a highly valuable teaching tool. However, Myers reserves her highest praise for her colleagues.  

“Talented teachers make it happen,” Myers declared.  

She believes parents can be confident their children are getting a great education in the Newcastle schools.  

“The reason for our (reading program) success is the school district made a commitment to train everybody, not just a few (teachers). They brought in consultants to develop every teacher with the same information and delivery. We explore ideas together, and we create methods for change together. Teachers have to be a team, in full agreement on common goals and focused on collaborating to achieve them. Teaching practices may vary, but goals do not,” she reasoned.



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