Located in northeastern Massachusetts, Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) serves approximately 12,000 students at 13 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and 8 high schools. The district’s student population is predominantly Hispanic (89%), with smaller percentages of White (6%), Asian (2%), African American (2%), and multiethnic students (1%). Eighty-seven percent of students are from low-income backgrounds and 80% speak Spanish as a first language. Twenty-two percent of students are English learners (EL) and 20% are students with disabilities.
In the fall of 2009, LPS piloted System 44 with 52 students in two middle schools and two high schools. Students were selected to participate based on a number of criteria, including performing poorly on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), scoring below 400 Lexile® (L) measures on the Reading Inventory®, and exhibiting difficulty with word-reading skills on the Phonics Inventory®. Of these 52 System 44 students, 90% were Hispanic, 96% spoke Spanish as a first language, and more than half (58%) were classified as limited-English proficient (LEP). The majority (73%) were male, just under half (48%) were students with disabilities, and 92% received free or reduced-price lunch.
A 60-minute stand-alone version of System 44 was implemented across schools five days a week, with the exception of one high school classroom that implemented the program for 50 minutes every day.
Phonics Inventory, the Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE), and Woodcock-Johnson® III (WJ III® ) were administered to all System 44 students in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010. Results demonstrated that these students made significant improvements in word-reading skills, as measured by the Phonics Inventory. In fall 2009, prior to the implementation of System 44, only 27% of LPS System 44 students placed at the Developing Decoder or Advanced Decoder performance levels on the Phonics Inventory (the highest two levels). By the spring 2010 Phonics Inventory administration, 44% of students did so, resulting in a significant increase. Conversely, the percentage of students scoring in the Pre-Decoder or Beginning Decoder performance levels (the lowest two levels) decreased from 73% in fall 2009 to 56% in spring 2010 (Graph 1).
LPS System 44 students also exhibited improvements in their word-reading skills as measured by the TOWRE. As Table 1 shows, these students demonstrated statistically significant gains, improving by an average three standard score points on Total Word Reading Efficiency, three standard score points on Sight Word Efficiency (the subtest which requires students to recognize familiar words), and two standard score points on Phonetic Decoding Efficiency (the subtest which measures students’ ability to sound out nonwords). System 44 students demonstrated similarly positive growth on the WJ III (Table 1). On average, students exhibited statistically significant gains of nine standard score points on Word Attack (subtest measuring proficiency in applying phonics and structural analysis skills to the pronunciation of unfamiliar printed words), 10 standard score points on Letter-Word Identification (subtest measuring letter- and word-identification skills), and 10 standard score points overall in Basic Reading Skills (BRS).
Results also indicated that students spending more time on the System 44 software exhibited greater improvement on the word-reading measures. On the Phonics Inventory, the percentage of students improving at least one decoding level was nearly twice as high among students who spent 20 or more hours on the software than among students who spent less than 20 hours on the software (32% versus 17%, respectively). Similarly, students completing 20 or more hours on the software averaged significantly greater gains on the Letter-Word Identification subtest of the WJ III (gains of 15 points versus seven points, respectively) and the Total Word Reading Efficiency subtest of the TOWRE (five points versus two points, respectively).