The Washington School District will expand its partnership with Lindamood-Bell, a research-validated program that develops the underlying skills needed for reading, spelling and comprehension.

Expanding the program will allow the district to complete teacher certification and start the program at other locations, as well as partner with local parochial and private schools.

The school board last week approved the program expansion at a cost of $89,000 which includes professional development workshops for up to 20 teachers, onsite coaching and program mamagement, off-site support, program management and administration, instructional leader certification webinars, data analysis and reporting.

Rachael Franssen, special services director, said extending the partnership will expand the district’s capacity to implement the process-based educational model and the fundamentals of instruction methodology, as well as utilize the data collected to determine instructional needs and monitor instruction.

“This is a very high-intensity program which is focused on decoding for our very poor readers,” she said.

Last year, the program served 26 students who were at a very low level of reading and all made gains, she said, but are still not within the average range for reading.

“It will take more time... it’s not instant, but it is affecting student in very significant ways,” Franssen said.

Preliminary data shows an average gain of 17 percentile points in the area of symbol imagery.

“The majority of our students began at a level in the borderline to severely impaired range,” Franssen noted. “By post assessment, the majority moved out the severly impaired range.”

Strengthening the symbol imagery expands and stimulates the brain’s visual imagery, she said, which is necessary for more fluent reading and spelling.

“The students who were targeted in this partnership do not have visual memory skills to make phonetic judgements about words or recognize and spell words that do not play by phonetic rules,” she explained.

Franssen said six staff members participated in the partnership last year with three of the six needing less than 50 hours of additional instruction to reach certification.

The certification is an important component, she said, because it’s designed to assist the district in maintaining a high quality program, thus protecting the investment made in this type of intervention.

Franssen said many of the participating students need continued services to be able to affect their overall ability to read fluently. Expanding the program to other buildings where students have profound impairments is necessary to continue to make gains, she said.

Opening the partnership to the private and parochial schools in the area will affect the district’s incidence rate and provide consistency of services for eligible students, Franssen said. It also allows for a shared funding source, she added, keeping the overall cost of the partnership lower.

Funding for the partnership is supported within the current special services budget.

There also is a math component of Lindamood-Bell, but it’s not part of the district’s current partnership.