Webster Elementary experienced 2 years of declining test scores. Had the decline continued, Webster was in jeopardy of being designated a Program Improvement School. A group of concerned parents, teachers and administrators met to brainstorm ideas to improve Webster Elementary School’s declining API scores. During the brainstorming session, the idea to create a Reading Intervention Lab at Webster was conceived. Wendy Woods and Kathy Gorman, as well as 3 Paraprofessionals, were hired to provide specific, research based Reading skill Instruction. Mrs. Woods and Mrs. Gorman had the unique opportunity of taking an “idea” and actually building a program from the ground up. They spent many hours scrutinizing all of the available research based programs they could find that would provide the highest quality, reading intervention possible. They finally chose the programs that they felt would best support the students in acquiring needed skills and strategies. They were looking for a strong technology component to include in their program. At that point in time, they received a flyer from the Essential Skills Company. The list of programs that were offered appeared to cover all of the skills that would be taught in the Reading Lab. They ordered Lab packs of almost all of the programs that were offered at the time and the programs have become crucial to the success of Webster’s struggling students. Essential Skills software has become the exclusive technology component that is used to provide the practice the students so desperately need to master each of the taught skills.


At the beginning of each school year, the 15-20 lowest performing readers in each grade level are identified. These are the students who score Far Below Basic and Below Basic on the California Standards Test, below the 30th percentile on the CAT-6 and/or teacher recommendation. The students are then assessed using the Houghton Mifflin Emerging Literacy Survey, The Houghton Mifflin Phonics and Decoding Screening Test and the Houghton Mifflin Leveled Reading Passages Assessment Kit to determine the specific Phonemic Awareness, Phonics (Decoding) and Comprehension Skills that the students have not mastered. The data that is collected at the beginning of the year (August) becomes the baseline assessment of skills. The students are tested 3 times during the year (Beginning, Middle & End) in Grades 1-5 and twice a year (Beginning & End) in Grade 6 (using the same above named assessments). By analyzing the data, the teachers are able to determine when specific skills are mastered and student growth in reading and comprehension levels.

After test data analysis, 15-20 students begin receiving 30 minutes of daily reading intervention. The students are grouped according to instructional needs. Regular Education and Special Education students are serviced together in small groups of no more than 5 students. The groups are fluid. As students’ skill levels change, they may move from one group to another. As Reading Lab students progress toward acceptable grade level standards, they are released and additional students that are falling behind are entered into the program.

During small group instruction, teachers and paraprofessionals present systematic, explicit skill and strategy lessons. Once a week, students spend their half hour block of time practicing these skills and strategies through the use of Essential Skills Software. This software provides the students with motivating, high interest practice in a fun and engaging format to achieve skill Mastery. Essential Skills Software gives the teachers the ability to customize and individualize practice to meet each student’s particular needs.

Essential Skills programs support the Lab students in a variety of ways. They provide the practice and support that is essential to mastering the California State Content Standards.


The practice activities provided by the Essential Skills Phonics and Decoding programs have led to the students’ mastery of word attack skills. The variety of activities gives them the opportunity to practice needed skills without becoming bored or disinterested. The programs provide verbal instructions which allow them to work independently, move at their own pace and work on skills specific to their individual needs. Students enjoy the rich, decodable text and anxiously anticipate the mystery pictures upon completion of the activities. The mid-year scores from the HM Phonics and Decoding Screening test have shown an increased mastery of the many phonics related skills (i.e. short vowel, long vowels, blends etc.). This can be directly attributed to the numerous activities the students have used in the Essential Skills programs. After being taught the skills during small group instruction, the students spend thirty minutes on their computer day practicing those specific skills in the appropriate Essential Skills Programs.


The Essential Skills programs prepare the students for State Testing. The questions in the Comprehension programs are in the same multiple choice format as the California Standards Test. The Comprehension programs include a variety of fiction and non-fiction stories that are age appropriate and extremely interesting to the students. The students are excited about the positive reinforcement they receive (stars, music, pictures etc.) upon completion of the activities. The students move through the stories at their own pace. The teachers have seen a large increase in students reading fluency and comprehension which can be attributed to the excitement created through the use of the Essential Skills programs. The programs provide plenty of practice with vocabulary building activities which has led to an increase in comprehension. One of the strengths of the programs is that the students must re-do the questions when they are not answered correctly. Many readers in the Lab have low word knowledge and require systematic practice with word meanings. Essential Skills programs provide entertaining and engaging practice activities. Improvement in word meaning knowledge has increased the students’ reading comprehension levels as measured by the Houghton Mifflin Reading Passages Assessment.

Marks Manager

The Marks Manager has played a crucial role in disseminating information about student progress. The Reading Lab teachers are able to look at the reports that are generated from the Marks Manager to assess when students have mastered each specific skill and can move on to the next skill. The reports of student progress generated by the Marks Manager are shared with the classroom teachers and parents during conferences, Student Study Team meetings and Individualized Instruction Plan meetings to determine the students’ strengths and weaknesses.

Special Needs Students

Essential Skills software has been instrumental in the educational progress of the Special Needs students (Down Syndrome, Autistic, Fragile X etc.) at Webster School. They attend the Reading Lab and work with the programs during one 30 minute block of time during the week as the rest of the students do. In addition, the Instructional aides bring the students to the Reading Lab every afternoon. During this time, they spend an additional 30 minutes of concentrated time working on skills with the Essential Skills programs. The educational progress these students have made as a result of using these programs on a daily basis is nothing short of miraculous. Repetition is extremely important to these students. The programs present in such a fun filled way that they have no idea that they are learning. Working with the programs have improved the students’ concentration and computer skills. Essential Skills programs have provided the means for these students to progress at their own rate and to develop to the best of their abilities. No one ever dreamed that these students would have progressed as far as they have but with the Essential Skills programs it has happened. They are readers!


Essential Skills Software has played a vital role in the improved achievement of the Reading Lab students at Webster School. It is the core technology component that provides practice with the strategies necessary for becoming successful readers. Through the data analysis, a marked improvement in the areas of Phonics, Decoding, Vocabulary and Comprehension has been noted. The data reflects increased reading levels for all students across the grade levels. The struggling readers have developed an enthusiasm for reading thanks to Essential Skills Computer Programs.

The successes of the Reading Lab are too numerous to mention. Webster is running a Reading Intervention program that fulfills the “No Child Left Behind” Federal Legislation and co-ordinates with the district adopted Reading Program. This program truly differentiates the curriculum to meet the needs of all students by using targeted instruction and providing computerized practice with the use of Essential Skills Software. This program services approximately 100 students in kindergarten through sixth grade every day. The concept of “full inclusion” is supported by having Regular Education, RSP and Special Day Class students working side by side. Since the creation of the Reading Lab, Webster’s API has continued to climb each year. Webster’s score in the first year of implementation was 749, with an increase to 789 the following year and 811 the year after. Last year Webster’s API qualified them to apply for the coveted “Distinguished School” award. When the visitation team came to Webster to verify the information contained in their application, they were extremely impressed. At the exit interview, they stated that, “Webster’s Reading Lab was the flagship of the school.” Webster was honored to receive the “California Distinguished School” award. Because Webster has created such a successful program, word has spread throughout the Valley and beyond. The Reading Lab has been visited by over 118 people, including Superintendents, District Psychologists, Project Coordinators, Programs Coordinators, Curriculum Directors, Principals, Teachers, Paraprofessionals and Leadership Teams that want to see a high quality, successful Intervention Model.