Five years ago, Path to Reading Excellence in School Sites (PRESS) began in response to alarming statistics. Nearly one in four third-graders in Minnesota were failing to reach basic levels of literacy. At the same time, research showed that if students don’t read proficiently by third grade, odds are they will not catch up.
A partnership of the Target Corporation, the Minnesota Center for Reading Research, and the Minnesota Reading Corps created PRESS as a pilot project. PRESS launched at six elementary schools in Minneapolis with close to 1,800 students in grades K–3.
Designed as a literacy intervention program, the goal was for all students to be reading at their grade level by third grade. With the funding from Target, the University had the opportunity to put into practice research and theory it had developed.
During the pilot project, faculty and literacy coaches worked with teachers to understand how to best serve students using the PRESS Intervention Manual as a key tool. Teachers were introduced to new ways of collecting and analyzing data to ensure that what was happening in the classroom would lead to effective instruction.
PRESS faculty and coaches helped teachers and literacy coaches use student data to make better instructional decisions and implement classwide interventions tailored to students’ needs. At the same time, CEHD graduate students teamed with Minnesota Reading Corps members to plan and deliver individualized literacy interventions to students who were reading below proficiency level.
The team behind the PRESS pilot project was led by faculty members Lori Helman (curriculum and instruction), Matthew Burns (formerly of educational psychology), and Jennifer McComas (educational psychology). They developed the program using the response-to-intervention (RTI) concept, meaning that data are collected to ensure that classroom techniques and interventions are actually having a positive effect with students in the classroom.
When the pilot was complete, the PRESS team knew they had an effective framework for literacy intervention. Results from a study in two third-grade classrooms showed a 32 percent increase in the number of students performing at or above their seasonal benchmark after receiving a PRESS classwide intervention.
Interest in the program grew. PRESS started offering trainings through the Minnesota Center for Reading Research and leading on-site professional development sessions at schools around the state, educating participants on how to implement the PRESS framework.
Since attending their first PRESS training almost four years ago, reading specialist Michele Chapin and her colleagues at St. James Public Schools have fully embraced the many levels of support offered by PRESS.
“What PRESS has done is give us a really solid starting point,” says Chapin, who works with close to 30 teachers to implement reading interventions. “My teachers really appreciate that PRESS is a research-based tool they can tailor to their classroom needs.”
Creating a community
Now Chapin and her team are some of the first users of the new online educational platform PRESScommunity.org. This new digital community makes the research and tools that have made PRESS successful available to a larger audience.
Users can access a wide variety of downloadable curriculum resources on many topics including phonics, fluency, reading comprehension, and the basics of effective classroom interventions. Video modules model classroom intervention techniques so teachers can see examples of how interventions are actually conducted in a classroom environment.
“The ability to go back and review, access additional resources, and watch training videos is invaluable,” says Chapin. “Sometimes a one-and-done training isn’t enough.”
Another feature is the community discussion board. Educators can post questions, and PRESS literacy coaches and other PRESS community members can respond and engage in an ongoing conversation.
PRESScommunity.org was designed in partnership with CEHD’s Educational Technology Innovations (ETI). Development took about a year with a dedicated team of eight people working on the project.
“All the pieces had to come together,” says ETI chief technology officer John Behr. “We needed to combine multiple brands—PRESS, the reading center, the college, and the University—into one, really make sure we understood our target market, and, most importantly, design a sustainable product our users would value.”
ETI uses the “agile method” of software development, Behr notes, which means that he and his team of developers can quickly react and adjust in response to user feedback. And feedback has been positive.
PRESS’s transformation has been a rewarding experience for its founder and MCRR director Lori Helman.
“PRESScommunity.org is the product of the magic that happens when content creators and developers work together to design a digital environment,” says Helman. “This partnership means that the site presents and structures the information, materials, and interventions of PRESS in a way that will be most effective—and will enable teachers and administrators that use it to gain the most benefit.”
Learn more at PRESScommunity.org.
Read more about ETI in “A launchpad for ideas that work.”
Story by Sonja Runck | Photos: top courtesy of PRESS; portrait by Greg Helgeson | Winter 2017