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MaDYK Assessment of Hebrew Reading: The Importance of Progress Monitoring

By Scott Goldberg, Associate Professor at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University
March 5, 2019

According to the 2018 Kids Count Databook report from the Annie E. CaseyFather reading Hebrew book to daughter at bedtime Foundation, only 35% of students in the United States read English at proficient levels by the end of third grade. This low rate of literacy is alarming, as reading is critical for learning and is a predictor of significant social, emotional and behavioral challenges. For the Jewish community, it should be equally, if not more, distressing that only 42% of day school students are reading Hebrew at or above benchmark levels by the end of third grade.  More than 15 years ago, I studied the impact of Hebrew reading difficulties, and found that those who struggle with Hebrew reading feel socially excluded, which then often leads to anti-social behavior. Indeed, if you are not a fluent Hebrew reader, you may not be able to fully participate in Jewish communal activities. Jewish day schools throughout the world are continually searching for effective ways to deploy and guide staff to support Hebrew reading. Given a limited pool of resources (including money, time and qualified staff), educators are often stymied about how to meet this challenge. 

For many Jewish day schools, MaDYK (Mivchan Dinami Shel Yeholot Kriah) has been part of the solution. MaDYK, a universal screening assessment of Hebrew reading skills, enables educators to effectively, efficiently and easily monitor a child’s Hebrew reading progress from Kindergarten through the end of Grade 3, especially for students who are  learning Hebrew as a second language.  As with dynamic assessments in English (e.g., Acadience Reading – formerly known as DIBELS Next), MaDYK benchmark assessment tools are designed to be a core component of a multi-tiered system of support. Using the data generated through the MaDYK assessment—which is expected to be administered to all students three times per year with a test that requires only approximately three minutes per child—educators are able to identify student needs with precision. This assessment of student strengths and deficits in Hebrew reading then guides the formation of instructional groupings and identification of areas for intervention. For example, reports will show which students meet benchmark goals for accuracy and fluency, allowing a school to easily create at least four reading groups (e.g., above benchmark goals in both accuracy and fluency, below benchmark goals in both accuracy and fluency, and above in either accuracy or fluency). Teachers use additional forms of the measures to periodically monitor the progress of those students who are determined to be at-risk for further reading difficulties (i.e., they scored below the benchmark goal). 

MaDYK is agnostic to curricula and instructional methods, meaning that educators use the results to make data-informed decisions about individual students and also about the success of the curriculum and teaching methods and other systems-level issues. Schools use reports at the student, class, grade and school levels in regular data meetings with teachers and staff to discuss trends and to plan for improvements. The aggregate of representative schools can also be used to report on the state of the field of Hebrew reading (as demonstrated by the statistic presented earlier about the percentage of students reading at benchmark level by the end of third grade).

The current MaDYK suite of measures have been rigorously studied for more than a decade, and have been scrutinized for reliability and validity, as we have come to expect from any assessments we use in our schools. The development team is currently piloting new measures and refining the reports that schools can access in the online data system to further advance the effectiveness of MaDYK’s use. 

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Literacy as the Bedrock of All Learning

By Marlene Moskowitz Dodyk, Former Director of Student Services, Wayland (MA) Public Schools
March 5, 2019

OverBooks in a heart-shaped bookslef the decades I have supported children in developing their literacy skills, I experienced time and again that they have an innate desire to learn to read and write. From their earliest ages, children take pleasure in turning the pages of a book and in hearing stories read to them. They live in a world saturated with language: printed, digital, verbal and nonverbal. They are inquisitive and want to find out what words mean. It is our professional responsibility to help children understand the complexities of language, to develop the requisite skills to effectively engage and interact with text and to express themselves both orally and in writing.

The development of solid literacy skills serves as the foundation upon which all future learning occurs: Children will not be able to acquire knowledge across all curriculum areas without knowing how to read and understand text. For literacy instruction to be effective, teachers must establish (a) a cycle of ongoing assessment using formative and curriculum-based measures and data to inform instruction, (b) differentiated instructional strategies and materials to specifically address the needs of individual children, and (c) calibrated approaches based on data from progress monitoring activities. It is vital to consider dosage (which includes both frequency and duration) dedicated both to direct instruction and to opportunities to practice reading and writing when establishing an effective balanced literacy program throughout the grades.

Teachers must emphasize the need for children to acquire phonemic awareness and decoding skills in the early grades; however, educators should also integrate and explicitly teach children strategies to develop reading fluency, which includes accuracy, ease, and prosody. Reading rate is often misconstrued as analogous to reading fluency; but fluency has more to do with reading comprehension. Thus, educators should focus on developing in children  a strong vocabulary, a grasp of syntax and text structure, and an expansion of background knowledge. Read Alouds—the reading aloud of age-appropriate texts in a group setting—are very effective in helping to teach and guide children in cultivating the various components of reading comprehension. These promote reading as interactive experience between the author and the reader, and are a wonderful opportunity for teachers to model good reading strategies and critical thinking skills.

Writing, a skilled process that can expand and improve throughout life, starts at a very young age. Through age-appropriate writing experiences, including journal writing, Writers Workshop and direct instruction on writing genres, structures, standard grammar and usage, children can learn to experience writing as an expression of themselves and, with practice, find their voices. Students develop the ability to clearly organize their thoughts, articulate a cogent argument with supportive details, and can creatively express their ideas and opinions. Writing then becomes a forum where students can take risks and hone their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Children need and can appreciate the positive power of words through the development of strong literacy skills. However, literacy instruction involves many complexities. Educators must therefore themselves become committed learners, always seeking new methods and approaches that will set the widest range of students on a solid path to becoming confident and capable readers and writers.


A Day School Tackles the Challenge of Literacy

By Lenore Layman, Director of Educational Support Services at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
March 4, 2019

Can students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities flourish in a rigorous Jewish day school setting? Student listening to teacherHow can students who are struggling to learn to read English in the primary grades also be expected to learn to read Hebrew?  Questions like these are commonly heard from psychologists who assess students and from educators across the country who experience challenges in enabling struggling students to meet expectations in various aspects of language learning.  More heartbreaking is the question raised by current and prospective parents in our school community: “Will my child be able to stay in (or come to) your school with these struggles, and how will you possibly meet their needs?”

The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, MD has been working to strengthen our educational support services in a number of ways so that we can confidently meet the needs of many students with  learning profiles that might otherwise preclude their inclusion in day school education. Our journey towards creating a strong support system has included expanding our Educational Support Services Department, together with ongoing and comprehensive professional development for all our faculty in differentiated instruction, executive functioning, and anxiety disorders as well as engaging our learning specialists in continuing trainings in a variety of literacy areas.

We revamped our support services model several years ago to include pull-out/push-in supports, a change that has greatly enhanced the effectiveness of our team approach in meeting the literacy needs of our students in both English and Hebrew. We have also restructured the Judaic Studies and Hebrew programs in our Lower School to create a new model for our students with more significant language-based learning disabilities in grades 3–5. These alterations were made possible by adding special educators from Israel with a background in remediation to our Educational Support Services team.

The literacy support we currently provide to students with language-based challenges includes:

  • Pull-out decoding groups for students in grades K–5, taught by our learning specialists using Orton Gillingham, Wilson and the DISSECT program;
  • One-on-one fluency work outside the classroom using the Great Leaps program;
  • Pull-out reading comprehension strategy group instruction and intervention in classrooms using Project Read Report Form and Story Grammar Marker;
  • Pull-out writing strategy group instruction and intervention in classrooms using Project Read Framing Your Thoughts, Teaching Basic Writing Skills and other writing strategies, a program shared by Sarah Ward (a speech and language therapist in Boston, who has provided ongoing professional development to our faculty);
  • Strategy instruction in Hebrew decoding and fluency, using a variety of methods including Otiyot Medabrot;
  • An alternative Hebrew and Judaic Studies class for children in grades 3–5, which employs a modified literacy curriculum developed by our faculty; and
  • Technology supports for reading, writing and presentations including use of Learning Ally, speech-to-text dictation and See Saw.

Through utilizing a number of these techniques in literacy instruction, we have experienced notable growth and skill development among many students who have mild-to-moderate language-based learning disabilities; but we are not done. 

When we have students who show improvement but still need more frequent intervention, we meet with families and ask them to consider hiring a specialized English or Hebrew reading tutor or speech and language therapist with literacy training to supplement the small group support that we are able to provide. On occasion, we have requested that a family hire a part-time or full-time instructional assistant (at their own expense) to be part of the student’s team, and to provide a higher level of scaffolding support in the classroom. These more intensive interventions can make a marked difference for individual students. 

Meanwhile, all our students have benefitted from the literacy support that our classroom teachers now regularly provide. This strengthened instruction in core classrooms has resulted from teachers’ commitment and from their participation in extensive professional development. The growth also reflects the ongoing partnership and collaboration among teachers and learning specialists. We are proud of the support services we are able to provide and are committed to continuing to improve and expand them to meet the literacy needs of Jewish students in our community.


Taking the Next Step Into Inclusion

By Michelle S. Alkon, President, Gateways Board of Trustees
February 13, 2019

Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month logo 2019This year, during February, my synagogue, Temple Shalom of Newton, MA is observing Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month by highlighting different aspects of awareness, acceptance and inclusion through the words of our temple community members.

I recently had the following conversation with one of our members:

“We have come such a long way in including children with differences into the religious school,” she told me. “When my son went to Hebrew school here years back, they taught him in a substantially separate class.” She went on to note the elegance of our Shacharit program in which individual learning styles are accommodated for all children in an integrated program of small group Hebrew learning. However, she also wondered if things had really changed.

When her son was in middle school, all the kids were celebrating their b’nei mitzvah.  Every week, there were ceremonies and parties to which this child was not invited. He wondered why. He had gone to Hebrew school with these children for years. He thought they were friends. She explained to him that b’nei mitzvah were very special occasions and that children invited only their closest friends. Since he had very few children coming to his bar mitzvah, this made sense.

The congregant was the parent of twin boys. Although the boys were not close friends with her son, and attended a different middle school, they had gone to Hebrew school at Temple Shalom together. When the invitation came addressed to “Mr. and Mrs.,” she RSVP’d that the whole family would come. Her friend called and told her that her son was not invited: he might detract somehow from the lovely day she envisioned. My friend found this difficult to understand, since there were over 60 kids invited, and she and her husband would be there should an (unlikely) issue have arisen.  He did not attend. And although nearly 10 years had passed, tears of bitterness pooled in the corners of her eyes. 

We wondered if this would still happen now. Do families think of including a child with disabilities outside of organized synagogue events? Do the adults with chronic medical or mental illness or physical challenges get invited to home Seders or only to the community event? Has inclusion and acceptance become the norm? 

The Torah tells us "וְלִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל- Do not put a stumbling block before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14). We get this, right? We are informed, decent and well-meaning people: We do not purposely exclude anyone. We recognize that our diverse and inclusive community is a better, richer, more interesting place. During this Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion month, can we look at ourselves and our lives to consider how we can integrate awareness, incorporate inclusion and demonstrate acceptance?

To make this happen, we need to take a “yes and…” approach. For example, if you are a parent of an upcoming bar or bat mitzvah, ask your child if there is anyone in the class who might want to celebrate with them who was not first on the list. Call the religious school to ask the Director of Inclusion or other religious school staff the same question. 

Then follow up your invitation to the family with a phone call asking what you can do as the host to make the day successful for this young guest. Offer to welcome a parent or aide in the invitation if it would make the child feel more comfortable.

Remember that just as you did not know these families, they might not know you; they may not have not been part of regular playdates and organized athletics that are so much a part of the social world of our children. A welcoming introduction from you will go a long way toward increasing everyone’s comfort in a new situation. 

The same principle applies to forging new levels of relationships with adults. Make the invitation: for dinner, for a holiday celebration or party, and make the call. “Is there anything we can do to make this easier for you?” You might ask about access or food sensitivities, or pronoun preferences or whether they need help with transportation. I have a friend who takes a municipally-offered ride service, but it is unreliable; so I arranged a private disability van and paid for it, so that he wouldn’t have to worry about that as well. If you are reaching out to someone with a physical or mental illness, acknowledge they have been struggling. If they decline your invitation because it is just too much for them, offer something more one-to-one at another time.

There is a lot of information out there about how to make a person with a disability more welcome: using the right language, respecting their space and accommodations and evening the playing field. I urge you to take advantage of the resources offered through the URJ and in Massachusetts through the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project. However, I have found a lot of the focus has been institutional, meaning, “How do we make our synagogues more inclusive,” rather than personal. It is important to make sure that people with disabilities have a place in our synagogues and schools.  But as Rabbi Lynne Landsberg has said, “We don’t welcome people with disabilities because they have disabilities; we welcome them because they are people.” It isn’t up to our institutions; we as individuals have to make the effort. 

And, by the way, it is not only individuals with disabilities who benefit. Inclusion benefits everyone.  People talk about universal design, the concept that changes made to accommodate a specific individual actually provide a more general benefit. The example often used is the sidewalk cutout, which was developed so people in wheelchairs could navigate city streets, but was actually appreciated by baby carriage pushers and people with wheelie luggage. Or the automatic door button, which can be used by someone with mobility issues or someone else with arms full of groceries. We are certainly incorporating elements of universal access in our designs for our temple renovation. Our bimah will be accessible for people who are mobility impaired, but also for grandparents. We will have an all gender bathroom that can be used by transgender congregants and as a companion bath for fathers with daughters or mothers with sons.  

But I’m talking about going beyond that. I’m talking about changing environments generally, rather than focusing on the individual and asking them to make the change. Friends of ours have a young son with autism who goes to a Jewish camp. He is incredibly slow moving. The words “hurry up” just don’t mean anything; neurologically, he needs to process, and it takes as long as it takes.  As you can imagine, this made him very unpopular with his bunkmates. During his first summer, everyone tried interventions to speed him up; but he was always the last one. He was very sad because he always had to go to activities all by himself. His second summer, the counselor made an announcement to the bunk on the first day: “Before you leave the cabin, look to see if anyone else is still getting ready.  If someone is still here, please wait and walk with him.”  No mention of a particular individual, no adult accommodation, and guess what? The kids just did it, AND every kid benefitted because, really, who likes to be left behind? Thinking outside the box about inclusive environments benefits everyone.

One thing you can easily do is get educated. We often find that programming around inclusion of people with disabilities or mental illness draws only attendees who “have skin in the game.”  Honestly, we all have a stake in this, and we will all benefit from increased awareness. There are a lot of learning opportunities offered in the Jewish community. 

I also urge you to be mindful and intentional about inclusion, not just opportunistic. Yes, you should greet someone at oneg, AND you could ask them something about themselves AND THEN, you could invite them for coffee. If you are planning an event, reach out to make sure it is inclusive, AND issue specific invitations to people who might be reluctant to attend.

It might seem like I’m asking you to do a lot of work. It’s not, really. Sometimes, an item feels like a burden when it is on your to-do list; but is a pleasant activity when it is executed. The personal and communal gain from making these kinds of efforts more than balances any uncertainty or discomfort in their undertaking. Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO and President of RespectAbility, notes that, “The Jewish community overall can pivot from a mindset of doing things ‘FOR’ people with disabilities to doing things ‘WITH’ Jews with disabilities.”

The Jewish community is enriched by different perspectives and energized by the sharing of diverse experiences. Rabbi David Saperstein, former Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism teaches, “We are taught in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, ‘Do not separate yourself from the community.’ The converse is equally compelling: We must prevent anyone from being separated against his or her will.”


Author Bio:

Michelle Alkon is the President of the board of directors at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education.  She is also a board member at Temple Shalom of Newton, where she chairs the Disability Inclusion Task Force.  She recently retired as Director of Adult Family Support at the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE), where she worked with adults with Autism and related conditions and their families on a variety of issues including understanding how their disability might impact their lives as they approach relationships, work and independent living.   She is a frequent speaker at conferences for parents and professionals and has contributed to publications including the Autism Consortium’s guide, Transitioning Teens with Autisms Spectrum Disorders and the anthology, Voices of Autism.  Michelle has a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University, where she learned a lot, and is the parent of two children with autism, from whom she learned even more.


Category: Op Ed, Inclusion Profiles, Synagogue Inclusion

Tagged under: Synagogue Inclusion, Inclusion


Increasing Access to Mental Health Services within the Jewish Day School Community

By Dr. Shellee Robbins, Director of Field Education, William James College (Newton, MA)
January 16, 2019

Girl looking at another group of girlsAs day schools confront the challenge of rising rates of mental health diagnoses among students, situations may arise in which students may require a range of mental health services that can be provided during the school day and within the educational setting. In fact, this in-school counseling approach may help to normalize the school setting and reduce anxiety or stigma.

While a licensed mental health provider may be budgeted and available to a school for eight to 10 hours each week, the inclusion of one to two graduate trainees can significantly increase the range and variety of mental health services available to students. Schools may therefore want to consider becoming a practicum site for graduate students from a local program in psychology. 

What does a program of this sort look like? Each year, graduate programs across the country partner with schools—including private secular and Jewish day schools—who welcome graduate students—in clinical, school and mental health counseling fields—into their communities. 

For the graduate students, school settings can be an optimal training location to provide clinical services, under supervision, and to receive substantial clinical experience. This type of training may occur in a school setting because many schools employ licensed mental health professionals who can guide and supervise the trainee.

Under the supervision of a school’s licensed mental health provider, students set learning goals and work to supplement the mental health services that are provided to the school community. Student contributions are guided by the supervisor, who determines how the trainee may best contribute and address the specific needs of the learning community.

The institution at which I am affiliated, William James College, is a school of psychology focused on educating specialists of many disciplines to meet the evolving mental health needs of society. Our three core values enlighten and organize our education process: Experiential Education, Social Responsibility and Personal Growth. We therefore recommend a year of school experience to every trainee as a way to meet our core value of social responsibility or, in Jewish parlance, tikkun olam.

From the perspective of a field education department chair, I would recommend that each Jewish day school community that has a licensed mental health professional available as a supervisor examine whether or not one or several graduate school trainees could enhance the mission of your school and increase the services provided to your community.

To learn more about the William James College program, or to contact the author, click here