• by Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D. and Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • August 1996 • 

Dr. Abelardo Villarreal

IDRA’s Reading Improvement Project is about accessing what you already know, providing answers to questions that you may have about effective reading strategies across the curriculum and supporting you in your efforts to implement these reading strategies that address – but are not limited to – performance objectives measured through standardized tests. It is a professional development program that empowers teachers and administrators to make informed choices and take ownership of a student­centered curriculum that, in turn, empowers students to select and use strategies to acquire meaning from text. In other words, students acquire strategies to find meaning in words that they do not know. They monitor comprehension of text and apply a variety of techniques to address a faltering comprehension.

Conferences and “one­shot” or short­term professional development sessions play an important role in our efforts to update our knowledge base in particular topics of interest. They have a role in creating awareness in people of alternatives to existing ways of doing things. They generate interest in change and inspire people to seek support from peers and administrators. As a consequence, we venture and begin to tinker with related ideas and become aware of the need for additional training and support to gain the full impact of those alternatives.

Cognizant of the need for a long­term effort to support curricular and instructional change in many of our campuses, IDRA created the Reading Improvement Project that, when implemented with fidelity and integrity, produces dramatic academic gains, particularly in the reading area.

Various school districts that have participated in this project have reported substantial gains not only in standardized tests but also in student attendance and participation in learning activities. The gains in one particular school district indicate a jump from 31 percent to 60 percent passing the reading portion of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test from one year to the next. The writing portion showed an increase of 27 percent. Limited­ English­ proficient (LEP) students taking the test showed a similar result. LEP students showed gains of 23 percent in reading, 32 percent in writing and 27 percent in mathematics (Cantu, 1996; Robledo Montecel, et al, 1994).

Just as dramatic as the gains in standardized tests has been the affirmation by teachers who implemented the teaching strategies in the Reading Improvement Project. Below are excerpts from some teachers’ comments:

“It has been very exciting. The children are very motivated, and I feel it was the attitude of the consultants that brought this forth because if he or she had come and given the information impersonally, it would not have worked.”

“[IDRA trainers] have been great motivators. Their attitude toward what they are doing, their expertise and knowledge were immediately available to us. Any time we needed to call, they were there. Many times, we have pilot programs. [The trainers] come and train you and then they say good­bye. We’ve seen so many of those people, and they just leave. This is the first time that there has been follow through.”

“IDRA came in, took inventory, formulated what we wanted, put out a program with our help, and now it is in place and is very successful. [Teaching] is more meaningful now compared to the past because [the IDRA consultants] lit a fire under us. We were dormant for so many years, if it weren’t for [the consultants], I don’t think I would have changed my methods. IDRA has generated a lot of motivation in teachers, and the kids read this (Supik, 1993).”

Our Model

IDRA’s approach to professional development emerged from an extensive search in the literature on what works in reading instruction in linguistically, culturally and developmentally diverse secondary classrooms. Furthermore, we searched for effective ways of supporting an improvement initiative on campuses that had experienced failures repeatedly and had staff who were on the verge of “giving up.” Our experience, supported by research, taught us that any change effort of the magnitude of the IDRA Reading Improvement Project required four major phases.

  • The first phase, articulating a reading initiative, is critical. A clearly articulated and well understood plan for addressing reading in the classroom must drive the professional development effort. During this phase, the school describes the major components of the reading program, the role of the language and content area teachers, and student and program evaluation questions and methodology. Materials are purchased, and classrooms are prepared to implement the innovation. IDRA staff assists and guides the decision­ making and documentation processes.
  • The second phase, staff preparation and support system, involves the identification of a cadre of core area teachers who will constitute the first cycle of teachers trained on the implementation of the reading initiative. This group begins the implementation of selected reading strategies and is responsible for setting up a classroom that will be used as a laboratory for other teachers starting a new training cycle. After a year of implementation, the original group of teachers becomes mentors for other teachers beginning a training cycle. IDRA trains them to work with teachers and other school personnel on the implementation and support of this improvement initiative.
  • The third phase, establishing a monitoring and evaluation system, complements the second phase by providing continuous and timely information on the implementation of the reading initiative. This information also includes student progress data. Successful professional development efforts are anchored on well­ thought­ out instructional plans and are nurtured and updated by feedback provided through the monitoring and evaluation systems. IDRA provides evaluation services to assess the impact of the improvement initiative on student achievement and on teaching performance in the classroom.
  • The fourth phase, sustaining the effort, involves the creation of support structures to sustain and update the reading initiative once IDRA has completed implementation of the Reading Improvement Project. IDRA staff build capacity among key administrative and teaching staff members to adjust and sustain the effort periodically. The box on Page 14 delineates the key activities in each of the phases.

Roles and Responsibilities

IDRA and each participating school district establishes a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding and grounded on specific roles and responsibilities. IDRA provides consultant services and acts as a change agent. The box at left describes the specific roles that IDRA plays as a consultant to the school district or campus. In addition, school districts agree to do the following.

  • Identify the participants who will implement the changes.
  • Provide assurances to participants that the district and campus administrative team supports the effort.
  • Provide release time for participants to participate in planning and study group discussions.
  • Ensure that the administrative team becomes involved in the design and implementation of the activities.
  • Provide the financial support to invest in teacher visitations of successful classrooms within and outside the school district.

Professional Development Approach

Key components of IDRA’s professional development approach for the Reading Improvement Project include the following.

  • Participatory decision making. Teachers and administrators participate in the design of the improvement initiative and staff development activities.
  • Workshops and work sessions. Most group staff development consists of workshops with a limited number of participants and of work sessions designed to solve specific implementation problems.
  • Technical assistance techniques. Techniques that are the most successful are one­on­one sessions during which the consultant demonstrates the use of the techniques and works with the teacher in preparing the teaching environment.
  • Study groups. Using small group activities, teachers meet to discuss an article or series of articles prior to a workshop.


This model has worked by creating learning environments that promote academic achievement gains, by empowering administrators, teachers and students with strategies to improve reading instruction and by building capacity in the school district or campus to initiate and sustain change that has a positive impact. This model works for all campuses regardless of student population profile or past academic performance level. In IDRA’s Reading Improvement Project everybody wins – teachers, administrators, students and parents.

School districts and campuses can get additional information about IDRA’s Reading Improvement Project by contacting Dr. Rogelio López at 210/444-1710.


Cantu, Linda. “TAAS Math Performance,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June­July 1996) pp. 1, 12­14.

Robledo Montecel, María and Mercedes Ramos and José Cárdenas. “Rio Grande City: A Case Study in TAAS Performance,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 1994) pp. 4­5.

Supik, Josie D. “Creating Successful Interactions: Lessons from the Reading Project,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 1993) pp. 1, 8­9.

Rogelio López del Bosque is the coordinator for the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Abelardo Villarreal is director of the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent via e-mail to feedback@idra.org.

[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 1996 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]