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Aiming for Access

June Behrmann

June Behrmann is a longtime special education teacher (pre-K to grade 6) who retired for about two seconds, and is now prospecting for accessible instructional resources. Follow June on Twitter @aimnoncat. Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with us.

Be Like Sherlock: Use PAR/uPAR Data to Determine Who Needs Reading Accommodations

October 20, 2015

The popular fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes said,“it’s a capital mistake to theorize before you have the data.” Ben Johnston makes the same point when schools seek school success for struggling readers. He offers a solution for improving decisions whenever questions about providing reading accommodations seem more like a game of chance than a science. 

Subjective Decisions  Too often, teachers make subjective decisions about which children need accommodations to access textbooks and trade books. "We can learn from Holmes—how he always looked deeper to get at the truth when everyone else was misled by erroneous details," says Johnston who is Director of Marketing at Don Johnston Incorporated. The educational software company works in partnership with AIM-VA to help deliver accessible educational materials (AEM).

In fact, data show that "teachers make the wrong decisions on accommodations 50% of the time when using subjective judgment (Helwig and Tindal, 2003). Recommendations are often more influenced by race, IQ, and socioeconomics rather than the need for accommodations (Fuchs and Fuchs, 2001)", he notes.

Objective Options

 So the PAR, a single student assessment, was created so that education teams could make decisions based on data. Johnston points to findings:

  • Assistive technology specialist Kim Byrne from Orange County (Florida) Public Schools found that  education teams changed 75% of their previous recommendations after seeing PAR data.”
  • Special education chief, Valerie Donnan from the Wauconda, Illinois School District assessed middle school students and learned that some can read three or four levels above their independent level if give text to speech (TTS) support. Educators discerned that PAR data separates the students needing accommodations from those needing more intensive intervention and instruction.

More Power With uPAR

After experiences with PAR, Don Johnston Inc. developed an automated protocol for groups of up to 30 students called the Universal Protocol for Accommodations in Reading—uPAR. This version, for a fee, is more efficient, grades automatically, and reduces staff training time that PAR requires. 

  1. Learn more about PAR and uPAR.
  2. Watch a 3-minute product demonstration.
  3. Sign up for a webinar with uPAR co-author, Dr. Denise DeCoste.
  4. Read a success story showing how the Central Community School District in Iowa successfully implements uPAR today.

Dyslexia, LD Awareness  Be sure to read Building Wings, a free interactive computer book for students and educators. It reveals how the company founder, Don Johnston, learned from 8th grade teacher how to deal with reading difficulties by thinking and learning in different ways. It highlights "disguised behavior signs" that children often use to hide their learning deficiencies. 

Thank you to AIM-VA: Accessible Instructional Materials for sharing this blog with our Reading Rockets audience.

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"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo