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A Needs Assessment

The 75th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 107 which requires all school districts in Texas to administer an early reading diagnosis instrument beginning with the 1998-99 school year for students in grades K-2. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) became tasked with educating the approximately 40,000 teachers in Texas who work with nearly one million children in Kindergarten, First Grade and Second Grade. TEA contracted with the Center for Academic and Reading Skills(CARS) at the University of Texas - Houston(UT-Houston) to update the Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) and for assistance with a massive teacher training effort to fulfill this legislative edict.

The information derived from the TPRI is used to determine which intervention strategies might be needed for individual students to help them meet the goal of passing the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test in third grade.

Presently, teachers are preparing for administering the inventory in two ways. Teachers can read through the instructions included with the TPRI packet at home or in conference time at school. In this scenario, teachers would depend on their own knowledge and what they can gleam from the booklets and tools in preparing to administer the inventory.

As a second option, teachers can attend a 2-day workshop on how to administer the TPRI. In the first round of training, some 60 individuals were educated to work as Education Service Center (ESC) staff throughout the state and tasked with training the teachers. In the workshops, ESC staff discuss with attendees the most common errors made in administering TPRI and how to best prepare for administering. For small school districts and remote schools, the expense of traveling to a workshop (airfare, hotel, meals, expenses) may preclude that option. This would place some teachers and thus, their students, at a disadvantage.

What was learned in first training sessions and in informal interviews was that teachers preferred ESC workshops over no training at all but that they required practice with the TPRI tools and wanted to know the most common "slip up's" for both teacher and students. According to Dr. Louisa Moats, teachers are familiar with phonics, but most are unfamiliar with how to teach phonemic awareness, an important step in learning to read. (Phonemes are sound sets of the English Language. There are only 26 letters of the alphabet, but there are approximately 40 phonemes or sounds. It is the blending of phonemes and the ability to add or delete phonemes from words, that leads to successful reading.)

Although not all schools/districts have selected the TPRI as the way to fulfill the objectives of House Bill 107, to date over 80% of schools in Texas have chosen this route. In the present training, the CARS groups has found that a ratio of 10 to 1 or less is the most successful to properly train the teachers. Unfortunately, some ESC sessions have as many as 300 teachers to one ESC staff member. This ratio problem must be resolved.

Although teachers felt more prepared to administer the TPRI after workshop training, with 40,000 teacher, it was a huge undertaking. Thus, some other sort of training is necessary for educating so many, so quickly.

The Learners and their Environment

In Spring 1998, 70 teachers were trained by CARS to administer the TPRI to their students in Kindergarten and First Grade in South Central Houston Independent School District. These teachers, through a study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found the TPRI to be "highly relevant" and "easy to administer". But the study also provided information about four obstacles to proper administration of the Inventory. According to CARS, those areas are: 1) teachers tended to guide or give hints instead of just assessing student answers, 2) properly pronouncing phonological awareness tasks, 3) using the TPRI results for instruction and future guidance, and 4) efficient organization of materials.

All four of these problems could be at least partially addressed with online or compact disc (CD) training. It is believed that all teachers in all school districts have access to at least one computer with a CD player and multimedia capability, many have access to more. It is not true that all teachers have much Internet experience, thus any training program might have to be accessible via a local CD. The program would have to load up automatically without installation instructions and would have to work both Apple/Macintosh computers as well as Intel-based computers. TEA agreed that mass production of a CD would be an acceptable mode of delivery of the material and that TEA would handle mass production and distribution of at least one copy per school. Since it was anticipated that more than one teacher and administrator per school who would like to view the information on the CD, the information would also be available via World Wide Web and accessible to all Texas elementary school districts.