Comprehensive Program Targets Schoolwide Literacy

2003: As Muskegon High School begins another school year, Principal Arlyn Zack strides through the hallways, peeking into nearly every classroom to see how his educational community fares. What he finds—universally—is teachers teaching and students learning. Everyone is engaged, committed, and excited about the possibilities the year holds.

Muskegon’s success story began in the mid-1990s, when assessment tests indicated that half of the 400 ninth-graders at the school read below grade level. One-third of the 400 students read significantly below grade level, defined as two or more years below grade level.

Amid these discouraging numbers, one pocket of students stood out: Students with learning disabilities at the school were showing tremendous gains in reading comprehension, thanks to explicit instruction in Strategic Instruction Model reading strategies.

Impressed, the School Improvement Team Reading Committee designed a narrowly focused SIM-based intervention as a way of reaching low-achieving poor readers. The committee documented substantial success among students who completed the SIM intervention. Reading comprehension gains of three or four grade levels were common.

From that beginning, Muskegon High School implemented a comprehensive literacy program designed to reach all students. The program is based in part on the Center’s Content Literacy Continuum. Muskegon teachers spent a year developing a one-semester reading comprehension course, Strategic Reading, offering instruction in SIM’s LINCS Vocabulary Strategy, Visual Imagery Strategy, Self-Questioning Strategy, and Paraphrasing Strategy. Students read high-interest material and two novels in the class.

During the spring semester of the 2002-2003 school year, a formal study to assess the effectiveness of the class found Muskegon High School students who took Strategic Reading performed better than their peers at a comparison school who did not.

—First published in 30 x 30: Thirty Stories of Success, Hope, and Innovation, © 2008, University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.