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Fundations with Fidelity

Inside the cheery, colorful PreK-2 classrooms at Betty McElmon Elementary School, daily, half-hour lessons in Fundations are another bright part of the day. As children experience the thrill of learning to read, teachers and administrators are delighting in their students’ achievements.

Now entering its sixth year implementing Fundations, the West Long Branch, NJ, school notes significant increases in student learning outcomes in language arts, shared Principal James Erhardt. Over the past two years, BME has experienced an average 15 percent increase in English Language Arts PARCC scores, he said. Earlier this year, BME was ranked 27th during the state’s first rating of public schools on a scale of 1 to 100, based primarily on standardized test results.

“Fundations has been extremely helpful in bolstering the literacy skills of advanced, on-grade, and struggling learners, and it’s helping our ELL students close the vocabulary gap to make them more successful in the classroom,” Principal Erhardt shared. “Moreover, the program provides the school with a true response to intervention program for students not reaching 80 percent proficiency on unit assessments.”

After recognizing a weakness in word study instruction, educators began looking for a multisensory structured literacy program to supplement the school’s existing ELA program, Mr. Erhardt said. Additionally, the school was searching for a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) for struggling learners.

Following a tailored COMPASS plan that included coaching visits from Literacy Advisor Susan Frank, the school rolled out Fundations in K-1 classrooms during the 2013-2014 school year. Second grade was added the following year, and Pre-K instruction was added during the 2016-2017 school year.

The rollout included support for professional learning in Fundations for the school’s PreK-2 teachers. Additionally, four BME teachers became credentialed Fundations Facilitators: Julie Lang (Level K); Loretta Roberts (Level 1); Megan Steel (Level 2) and Julia Carasia (Tier 2/Intervention).

“The professional learning has helped our students and staff members in myriad ways,” Principal Erhardt said. “For example, the resources on Wilson Academy provide great topics of conversation for teachers during professional learning community (PLC) meetings. Furthermore, the coaching days built into our learning plan allow BME to have lab classroom experiences where teachers are provided authentic feedback in live classrooms. Lastly, our trained facilitators serve as a valuable resource for teachers new to the district or those struggling with certain aspects of program implementation.”

The program’s unit assessments help teachers identify reading deficiencies in students. Once there is an identified weakness, these students may be further tested using a state-approved dyslexia screening tool. Students with identified weaknesses are provided small-group, targeted instruction as a Tier 2 early intervention three times a week, in addition to their daily Fundations lessons, said Principal Erhardt.

“The Betty McElmon teaching staff has worked hard to utilize data and provide small-group targeted instruction in the classroom. This has made for a significant impact on student achievement,” he said. The school opens its doors to other districts interested in learning more about Fundations and observing instruction in action.

“Perhaps the biggest advantage the Wilson Fundations program has given our district is a true multi-tiered system of supports for struggling learners, which is recommended by the New Jersey State Department of Education,” he said. “Teachers have benefited greatly from working with Fundations trainers and facilitators to improve their teaching techniques, so the program can be implemented with fidelity.”

Photo caption: First grade teacher Loretta Roberts, a Fundations Facilitator at Betty McElmon Elementary School, leads students in a lesson.