Ed Week – How a Bathroom Log Helped One Middle School Understand Its Literacy Issues

Opinion Piece in EdWeek By Seth Feldman (Superintendent of the Bay Area Technology School in Oakland, Californa) — April 11, 2021 

How to Support Struggling Readers in Middle School
The embarrassment of having a hard time reading can lead to evasive behavior and hopelessness. Here’s how my school steps in.

As a former reading teacher, I know that language matters. For example, I want to strike the term “remediation” from the dictionary of education. No student is remediated. They are not sick or broken. What we are looking to do is to advance all learners. Our middle schoolers don’t want to be called out as being unintelligent or incapable, so when they hear that they’re in remediation class, they are more likely to lose hope and become withdrawn.

Starting With Smart Assessments
The first and most objective question we ask is, “How well is this student doing with assignments or group projects?” For one of our main reading assessments, we use Lexplore, which has an AI eye-tracking feature that helps educators identify students’ reading patterns to see if they might have dyslexia or another learning disability. It’s not a diagnosis, but positive data from Lexplore is a good enough reason to recommend further academic testing to a parent.

Our most recent round of testing was in mid-February, when we found that 15 percent of participating 6th through 8th graders were reading at a low level, with 41 percent below average and 44 percent average. Rather than reflecting a COVID slide, these figures were an improvement over the results we saw in fall of 2020, when 20 percent of students were reading at a low level, and only 40 percent were at average level.

Whenever we test, if an educator notices the red flags and has reason to believe their student is struggling with reading alone, they know they can help their student in a couple of different ways, such as using devices that measure phonemic awareness or comprehension.

What the Bathroom Log Really Means
Another way that educators can identify and help struggling readers is simply keeping a bathroom log. Last year, there was a 6th grade boy at my school who was always going to the bathroom, every single period. We noticed it right away and we also noticed that when he took his diagnostic examination for reading and math, he scored at a 2nd grade level.

We didn’t call him out on it, but we did some heavy intervention in reading using assistive technology. As he grew from 2nd grade to 4th grade level, his bathroom visits decreased. By the end of the year, he was up to a 6th grade level and he wasn’t on the bathroom logs at all, except at lunch.