A New Acronym for the SIPPS Program
Now in my third year as a K–2 reading intervention teacher, I have come to expect many of the emotional ups and downs that come with teaching at-risk readers. Every fall, I am excited and rejuvenated. I can’t wait to meet my new group of readers and to assist them along their reading journey. As we approach December, panic typically creeps in. I begin to worry that students are not growing fast enough and I continue to reflect on ways to better meet my readers’ needs. After the winter break, some of the holiday panic dissolves because as all first grade teachers know, many readers blossom in tandem with the new flowers, trees, and animals of spring. But some readers are not yet ready to bloom. They still need tender care and encouragement. Yet, another interesting phenomenon occurs in the spring season, affectionately known as the testing season. Each year, our first graders are engaged in one week of standardized testing. Five days out of 180 seems to be a drop in the bucket, right? This is precisely the question that I pondered this year as I strolled up and down the aisles of a first grade classroom engaged in one week of testing. I began to consider the ripple effect of just “five days of testing” upon those first graders poised to bloom yet still in need of intensive reading instruction.
- In the days and weeks leading up to testing, occasionally students were unable to join my reading group. Teachers in the midst of instruction and test review kindly asked if the students could remain behind. I certainly respect and honor these requests from my colleagues (especially since the test is one measure of a teacher’s effectiveness) but I wonder, what about the need for consistent reading intervention instruction for our most fragile readers?
On a typical week, I see 8 groups of students beginning at 8:05 a.m. and ending at 2:15 p.m. The test developers suggest that each subtest should take no more than 30–60 minutes. All sounds well and good with only minimal interruptions to my schedule, right? But in actuality, the subtests far exceed the times suggested. Keeping six-year-olds focused on oral directions and on the right test page is no easy task. So now the 30-minute testing segment has taken three times that long and by the time all tests are complete and accounted for, it is nearly lunchtime. While I always attempt to see my readers during the afternoon, my efforts are often futile as the students are exhausted and drained from the intensity of morning testing.
- In our school we meet weekly in Professional Learning Communities—every week but testing week. In order to ensure all testing materials are distributed each morning of the test, our meeting is canceled resulting in a missed opportunity for collaborative discussions about student learning. I wonder, what about the importance of ongoing conversations based on our observations of the students?
When I “add” up the time lost by these events, I realize that the ripple effect is far wider than one might realize. Then, I think back to my readers still waiting to bloom. I consider one of the essential principles to effective reading intervention instruction: consistency is crucial. Our children make the greatest gains when provided consistent, daily, instruction with the SIPPS lessons blended with consistent core reading instruction and ample practice with daily independent reading. Sadly, in all of this testing, this consistency of instruction goes missing. For this reason, I always approach this time of year with a heavy heart, knowing I am unable to give my most delicate readers exactly what they need. I only hope that once all of the tests are packaged, secured, and shipped that we can go back to what we know our students need most: Sustained Instruction in Phonemic Awareness, Phonics and Sight Words (a new acronym for the SIPPS program!).