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Improved reading, comprehension are winning strategies at H-F

Reading is an essential part of life.  That’s why Homewood-Flossmoor High School has begun using Lexile, a new tool measuring the independent reading skills of all students.
A Lexile assessment was given to every student in September. It provides teachers information on how students read and comprehend; how they process the information they’ve read and are able to address questions about it; how they apply what they’ve read to a writing assignment or take it into a conversation or discussion.
Lexile is the latest in a string of improvements in reading at the high school since 2005. H-F won recognition in 2014 from the Illinois Literacy Association for having the best high school reading program in Illinois. The state then nominated H-F for an award presented by the International Reading Association at a New Orleans meeting in 2014.
“We have reading courses, we have many, many supports for students including literacy instruction in all of our classrooms,” said Nancy Spaniak, director of curriculum, instruction and professional development.
Over the years, one success built on another to bring the outstanding reading program to fruition. In 2004 when Spaniak was hired as a reading instructor she worked within the English department, but she quickly realized there needed to be a greater emphasis on reading comprehension than what students were getting in English classes.  
She was able to convince the administration to develop a structured reading program. With support from the school board, the pass/fail reading class became a stand-alone graded class. Today 499 students, approximately 18 percent of the student body, are enrolled in the reading program.
Spaniak headed up the reading department and worked with a cohort of teachers over several summers creating reading programs for students at the various academic levels. Over time the program has grown into one that helps students at all levels – whether they are excellent readers or need assistance.
When Spaniak moved to her current position, the H-F Improvement Committee developed a school-wide literacy strategy program. Lauren Freeman was hired as the reading department chair.  She and Spaniak have developed a school embedding literacy program. Teachers are required to infuse classroom work with literacy instruction in their teaching at least twice a week.

And by adding Lexile this year, teachers now can pinpoint student reading levels and plan materials that best suit a student’s comprehension.

It used to be that H-F relied on standardized testing. A score at the 50th percentile “is basically saying 50 percent (comprehend) higher and 50 percent lower but does not tell you specifically how well a student can tackle grade-level text, how well he or she can truly comprehend that text,” Spaniak told District 233 board members during the December meeting. “We are so excited to specially pinpoint a Lexile score because it does give a grade range in which a student can independently read text.”
Freeman said Lexile testing gives specific information on how students comprehend based on sentence length: how long and complex a sentence is, how many multi-syllable words are used and how many words are in a sentence; and word frequency: how less familiar words might impede reading fluency and affect comprehension.
In September all students were given the Lexile level set test through the online learning program Achieve 3000. Class averages were: freshmen scored at 1010, sophomores at 1044, juniors at 1102 and seniors at 1127. Lexile parameters are 1050 to 1335 for freshmen and sophomores and 1185 to 1385 for juniors and seniors.
Spaniak said within the H-F population, at the start of the year, 25 percent are reading below the 1050 level, and the rest are in the high school range. Also, 12 percent are above the college and career readiness level of 1385. Some students scored as high as 1700.
Flossmoor District 161 and Homewood District 153 are using Lexile and shared scores with H-F as students moved to high school. Now with all students taking Lexile testing, H-F will have a comprehensive record of how they improve over the years.
“We want kids to be successful in college or a technical career. Nine times out of 10 a job requires reading,” Spaniak stressed.

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