Spotlight Texas: Southside Independent School District
Southside Independent School District is in the southside of the city of San Antonio, Texas, and serves more than 5,000 students, including those in their four elementary schools and one early childhood center. It is a Title 1 district, designed to help underserved students meet state academic content and performance standards.
The school district as a whole has been focused on school improvement. In 2019, the Texas Education Agency gave the district’s schools ratings ranging from C to F. The superintendent’s ultimate goal has been to achieve A ratings across the board. Among the necessary curricular improvements was a new approach to reading instruction districtwide. The existing reading program for K-3 was not explicit and systematic and was not meeting students’ needs.
In fall of 2021, the district’s elementary school teachers participated in 95 Percent Group’s professional learning course on the science of reading, which helped them learn the evidence-based approach to developing literacy skills through phonics instruction. To turn their new knowledge into practice, they began using the 95 Phonics Core Program™ for whole-class instruction.
During summer of 2022, the district received exciting news that its overall rating had gone up to a B rating, and it had been named among the region’s best-performing public school districts. There were many areas of improvement, with reading being an important one at the elementary level. K-3 teachers used their new 95 Percent Group reading resources consistently during 2021–2022 and continue to use them in 2022–2023. They have appreciated the progress they have seen with students. One champion in particular is Julie Groce, a first grade teacher at Gallardo Elementary School.
“I am an independent thinker. But if there is evidence to make a change in what I am doing, I am on board. If I see a better, more efficient, scientific approach, I will use it. And this one is. It has really changed how I teach for the better,” she said. “Rote memorization was NOT working. This is working.”
One student stood out to Groce.
“This one student came in not knowing any letters and sounds,” she said. “In October 2021, he started using 95 Percent Group’s instructional material and his reading just took off. He went through leaps and bounds.”
95 Percent Group’s offerings are part of an ecosystem that helps teachers support all students and provide a consistent learning routine based on the gradual release of responsibility model. The core program’s whole-class instruction is part of a 30-week comprehensive reading and language arts curriculum. Resources include fully-scripted teacher’s editions, student workbooks, manipulatives, digital presentations, and assessments. Groce appreciates how easy and turnkey they all are.
“I love using sound boxes and chips and my students have really taken to these,” she said. “It’s really tactile and helps them make connections between moving the chip and writing each grapheme in their workbook. That is an important connection.”
The 95 Phonics Chip Kit™ helps teachers explain phonics patterns using manipulatives and sound-spelling mapping. Groce says she first uses the chips with the whole class, then breaks students into small groups based upon where they are and what gaps they need to fill in Tier 1.
“Having a strong strategy like this in Tier 1 is your best defense against more kids moving into Tiers 2 or 3,” she said.
Advice for her peers
“Give this a try! You won’t regret it,” said Groce. “Of all the new curricula I have been asked to implement, 95 Percent Group is by far my favorite. It has made the most sense. It was so easy to make the change because it works. It gets kids reading, and it also helps them enjoy it.”
She and her colleagues took to the new approach very quickly, as the professional learning was “super helpful and extremely straightforward.” But she suggests educators give themselves about six weeks to get fully comfortable with using this new method in class.
“Keep the end goal in mind. This will turn your students into readers, and that is the goal.”
Are you interested in learning about how you can bring an effective and efficient structured literacy approach, grounded in the science of reading, to your school or district? Contact us today.