Looking to improve reading skills in your classroom? Join us in conversation with Beth Herod, Early Learning and Elementary Curriculum Director for Gordon County Schools to learn how to implement skill checks and interventions to improve student literacy!

Beth Herod in Classroom Conversations

Looking to improve reading skills in your classroom? Join us in conversation with Beth Herod, Early Learning and Elementary Curriculum Director for Gordon County Schools, to learn how to implement skill checks and interventions to improve student literacy!

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Ashley Mengwasser: Hello there to all of our educators and leaders in education listening. Welcome to Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. This podcast is a collaboration produced by the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting to enrich your classrooms. I'm Ashley Mengwasser here to bring you more of season four. You know how two things can be great apart, but even better together? There's jelly, there's peanut butter, then there's peanut butter and jelly. Indisputable pleasure of the palette. There's showering and there's singing, but then there's singing in the shower. And who isn't Aretha Franklin with those acoustics? On this podcast series, we've already championed literacy and we've celebrated leadership. Today, we'd like to give you the better together version: an episode on literacy leadership. And fundamental to leading literacy breakthroughs in our schools is today's topic: screeners and interventions. Screener has fun and multifaceted meanings in our language. Screener can mean a first look at a film or a media product. It can mean dirt moving equipment, that's true, like crushers and screener, machines that work the land. In education, a screener can be a skills check, a window into a student's world of concept mastery. Beside me is a truly energizing personality beaming out a beacon of literacy light in Georgia. It's time to herald the Herod. Beth Herod joins us, Elementary Curriculum Director for Gordon County Schools in Calhoun, Georgia. Welcome, Beth.

Beth Herod: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here.

Ashley Mengwasser: I said you would be beaming this energy out. How are you today?

Beth Herod: I'm great. I'm great. It's so nice to meet you in person. I love all the podcasts.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's what we like to hear, Beth. We're going to have to record a testimonial before you leave.

Beth Herod: Okay.

Ashley Mengwasser: I see you came prepared, which I totally gleaned from my first introduction to you. This is your 26th year in education. You told me you were once a literacy coach, which I think is one of the coolest jobs. And now, you're in year 10 as a curriculum director. First of all, that's commitment, but what do you like about directing curriculum?

Beth Herod: Well, when I first left the classroom and the school with students and teachers, I missed that, and I've had students reach out over the years. But what I like about this is that I get to reach a lot of different people and things that I'm passionate about. I can share that passion with others. That part of it I really like and I really love. I'm a curriculum director in the town I grew up in, and so I like to see that I'm making a difference there because they made a difference for me.

Ashley Mengwasser: And home sweet home.

Beth Herod: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: And what is the role, if you will, of a curriculum director?

Beth Herod: Well, in a small system like Gordon County, I wear a lot of different hats. So I work with all of our students from early learning all the way to fifth grade. And so I support and lead our principals in making decisions instructionally. Also, with the different obligations and requirements from the state level and local level, I make sure that we follow all of those. But most importantly, I support our teachers.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that. And how about behind Beth? Who are you as an individual? Tell me about yourself.

Beth Herod: Okay. I have two children. I have a 24-year-old and a 14-year-old. Besides this career, they've definitely been the center of everything. And then I have a husband who's stuck by me for 25 years. I was nervous coming today and he said, "Beth, you talk about this all the time, you're going to be fine."

Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. You know your content. We summoned you, obviously, because our teams at the Georgia Department of Education consider you to be a great exemplar for literacy leadership. Why don't you tell us why that is? What is going well with literacy at Gordon County?

Beth Herod: Okay. Well, I'm fortunate I work for a great school system with a very supportive superintendent and assistant superintendent. And I think what we are doing that sets us apart, that makes us successful, is that we have had screeners in place for a while, and I think it's how we use the data to make decisions for our students. Our superintendent definitely gives us the opportunity to look at ... Within our schools, we have close relationships with our principals so that we can sit down and have honest and transparent conversations about the students that are struggling and why they struggle, and then the different things that we can put in place. And also, our team works very closely to make sure that when you look at the data, we have interventions that we can provide for our students. And so I think probably the strength of it is the process and procedure that we have in place.

Ashley Mengwasser: Let's look at student literacy in Georgia at this moment statistically, Beth. A math teacher, would be very proud of us right now for including math in a literacy episode, just saying. In late July, Georgia DOE released stats showing that the percentage of third grade students in Georgia who are reading on or above grade level had increased three percentage points over the past year. Give us a little more lay of the land. What are some current literacy stats that tell us how students in Georgia are actually doing in this regard?

Beth Herod: Okay. If you look at the National Center for Educational Statistics, which that's in the news a lot and you see where we are there ...

Ashley Mengwasser: Comparatively, with other states.

Beth Herod: Yes. And it's important that we do that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Of course.

Beth Herod: In fourth grade, which is the year that it's tested, we had 32% in 2022. And really, there was no difference from the last time that data was collected in 2019. It was at 32%.

Ashley Mengwasser: So that's telling us ...

Beth Herod: So when I look at 2022-2023 Georgia data, and then I look at the NATE data, I see that we're stagnant. We're kind of staying the same.

Ashley Mengwasser: I see.

Beth Herod: Which I'd like to see two things: the percentage higher, but I also would like to see some change there in what we're doing, which I think that says a lot about what our state is doing legislatively.

Ashley Mengwasser: Which is a big deal. Yes. And I know you want to share some of that with us as well. Okay, very cool. Well, we know that the relationship with reading that a student has matters. That's kind of fundamental to the experience that they're having with literacy. In your experience and in your observations now, do you find that students are reading for fun or are they mostly reading for school?

Beth Herod: It's interesting that you ask that because literacy has been something that I've just been really interested in the last few years, and I think I told you this the other day. I've been in a little bit of a campaign when we travel and there's young people that are working in the hotel or whatever. I've asked, "What book have you read lately?" or, "Do you like to read?" And unfortunately, most of them say, "No, we don't really read books anymore." They're looking at the devices and things like that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, man.

Beth Herod: So I do worry about that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Beth Herod: But I do feel like as educators, we have to teach students to be lifelong learners and read if they're going to continue to grow, even as adults.

Ashley Mengwasser: Of course. And look at the example set as well, which I think the corollary question would be are adults reading for fun? Are you reading for fun?

Beth Herod: Well, in my spare time.

Ashley Mengwasser: In your spare time. She's like, "I'm a busy woman, Ashley."

Beth Herod: Yeah. I do like to read. And I was thinking about what genres and what I like to read. I like to read mysteries because I like to be surprised.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Beth Herod: If somebody can surprise me, that's good.

Ashley Mengwasser: There we go.

Beth Herod: And then I also like to read encouraging things. Like last year at GACIS, we had Steve Pemberton come, and he wrote the book The Lighthouse Effect, and that's one that I've been. I also like to go back to things I really like and read it over again.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's really good of you. I tend to read it once and put it down. But then I'm like, "What was that quote? I should have taken better notes." I'm really into fiction. I'm reading the book Nothing to See Here. Have you ever read that one?

Beth Herod: I haven't read that one.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's an interesting premise. It's about some young school friends who reconnect later in life, and the friend asks her younger friend to come and watch her two stepchildren who catch fire when they're agitated, like physically go up in flames.

Beth Herod: Oh, wow.

Ashley Mengwasser: So I've only made it that far. I've learned that. I've not met the children yet, but it surprises me. And it's interesting because I'm around young children these days and it seems like they could actually burst in flames at any moment.

Beth Herod: It seems like it.

Ashley Mengwasser: What might be the antidote, Beth, is a calming book, a nice book to read. How long do you think students are reading at night at home, and what's being requested or required by schools these days?

Beth Herod: Well, I know we hope that they would read 20 to 30 minutes, depending on their age.

Ashley Mengwasser: That seems reasonable to me, about half an hour. Okay. And I would say at night, I'm probably trying to read, like you, when I can get it in after a long day staring at a screen. It's funny how adults want the opposite. We look at our screens all day and we want the retreat of a book.

Beth Herod: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: I could do an hour-and-a-half of reading every night potentially. What about you?

Beth Herod: Yeah, when I have time, I love to read. I would say maybe an hour.

Ashley Mengwasser: An hour, yeah. Just something nice.

Beth Herod: I would much rather do that than watch TV.

Ashley Mengwasser: I agree with you. It's a good way to end the day. Well, for our topic today, we're going to talk about not screens, but screeners and interventions and guiding our school's literacy leaders, which you are, Beth. So terminology first, though, what is the difference between a screener and an assessment?

Beth Herod: That's a great question because in education we assess so many things, and each type of assessment has a different value and a different purpose. And so if you look at it like a menu, the assessments such as the Georgia Milestones Assessment or even end-of-unit or end-of-week tests that teachers give, that's to check mastery to see how our students are doing with our curriculum. But when you look at a screener, it has a completely different purpose, and the purpose of it is to truly find and analyze the students that may be struggling.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Beth Herod: And in Gordon County, we have a universal screener that we give three times a year. And what we do with that information is we are looking for students that have deficits because research has shown that if we can find that deficit early and fill that gap, then we can help that student be successful. So that's the purpose of a screener.

Ashley Mengwasser: Of a universal screener.

Beth Herod: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's not a grade ...

Beth Herod: No.

Ashley Mengwasser: Which I think you explained so well. It's not so much about the specifics they're learning in their classroom. It's really trying to produce some data that you can act based on.

Beth Herod: Yeah. And now, legislatively, with our Senate Bill 48, which is our dyslexia bill, and with our House Bill 538, which is a literacy bill, school systems are required to have universal screeners three times a year. And I think that's a great first step because if you look at the data, like we started our conversation off with, we have students who are falling through the cracks, and so it's incredibly important that we find those deficits and we fill those gaps.

Ashley Mengwasser: To get those numbers up. Would you tell me, just in brief, about each of those bills?

Beth Herod: Well, I'll try.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay.

Beth Herod: And I've been pretty involved with both of them.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's great.

Beth Herod: Senate Bill 48. It's legislation to support students that may have dyslexia. And with that one, school systems will be required to give a universal screener three times a year. And then on top of that, one time a year, they're to give a dyslexia screener. And so within that bill, they have defined what different terms school systems will need, and then also the procedure of how they will give the screener and then provide information to the Georgia Department of Education with that data. And then, not long after that, we passed our new ELA standards and we're excited about that. Did a lot of work with that. And now we have House Bill 538, and that's the literacy bill, which is similar. It has some similarities and differences to Senate Bill 48, but what that particular bill provides is, again, that we need to provide a universal screener three times a year, and that we have a plan to address students that have deficits in literacy.

Ashley Mengwasser: So we will actually see the word "screeners" in those bills.

Beth Herod: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's what they're talking about.

Beth Herod: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: And you can research this legislation online at the Georgia General Assembly website. You can read those bills for yourself if you're interested. How does the universal screener help you, Beth, and other district leaders plan strategically for Gordon County's system, for instance?

Beth Herod: Okay. Well, we just administered our fall assessments. And so when I look at it at the district level, it's really twofold. We have our current reality, and that's where we've met with all of our elementary schools and we've looked at their data, and we've talked about who. "Let's talk about the kids that are struggling. Let's talk about the teachers that may need support." And then we talk about, "What do we need? Do we need to make sure that we're providing more supplementary materials there? What do we need to do?" And then, the how. "How will our schedule change?" So all of that is the current reality. But then the other side of that, as a district leader, when we give our fall and our winter screeners, I start planning for the next school year in February.

Ashley Mengwasser: There you go.

Beth Herod: Last year in February, when we looked at our screener information, I set three goals. And then when we got our final screener information, I started articulating those goals. And I trained our principals on what we're going to do with those goals, and now we're starting professional learning with our teachers. For example, one thing that we noticed in our screener was that we had a large percentage still struggling to blend words.

Ashley Mengwasser: Interesting.

Beth Herod: And so when we started really analyzing that problem, we noticed that some of our teachers with our tier one systematic phonics program, they were taking pieces out of it. And when you take pieces out of it, then you lose, really, the viability of the curriculum. And so our goal was we were going to teach that program every part, every day. And so we provided training last spring, we provided training this fall, and we're going to hope to see that in our data that we're going to have more improved with our blending.

Ashley Mengwasser: Tell me about blending words, what that means.

Beth Herod: Okay. That just means that when a student attacks a word, they're able to blend it completely. And we screen that lots of times with nonsense words, which are simple, vowel/consonant words.

Ashley Mengwasser: Interesting.

Beth Herod: Yes. And we see how well they're able to blend that. And then if they're not able to do that, then that screener shows the student at risk. If they are able to do it, then we can go a little bit further and see how they're doing with the different phonics patterns.

Ashley Mengwasser: And that's what you're trying to detect with a screener in the first place.

Beth Herod: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: What tools and resources does a teacher use to determine the best intervention, the second piece of this, for a student after a screener is administered?

Beth Herod: That's a great question and it is so important because what we are trying to train our teachers to do, and at the state level, what we're talking about, is that when we look at the data and we determine a deficit, it's incredibly important that the intervention that a teacher chooses to use directly supports the deficit.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Beth Herod: For example, lots of times it shows up in third or fourth grade as a fluency issue, which means our students aren't reading fluently and accurately enough. And so then what happened was they were putting them in a fluency intervention, when actually, the deficit may be something along the lines of phonological awareness or phonics.

Ashley Mengwasser: Something different.

Beth Herod: Yes. And so it's incredibly important that they learn how to look at the data and connect it to the very best intervention, and then monitor their progress.

Ashley Mengwasser: So the screener reveals the best intervention.

Beth Herod: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: And the theme of our episode, better together, like peanut butter and jelly, you need screener plus intervention. You need both pieces of it.

Beth Herod: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's the action piece that you apply to the data. Is there an ideal time for administering a screener? I'm thinking of being a young kid in school and test taking. What cues do you get about when you should versus shouldn't use these tools? Anything you've observed?

Beth Herod: Well, we put together an assessment calendar every year like everybody else. And so with a universal screener, we've had a lot of conversations over the years. The fall one is a no-brainer. We know that we're going to do that at the beginning of the school year to get that good baseline data.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Beth Herod: And then for winter, we've gone back and forth, "Do we do it before Christmas or after Christmas?"

Ashley Mengwasser: After Christmas.

Beth Herod: And so for several years, we did it before Christmas. And the beauty of that is that it's a little bit more of a calm time of year. I mean, not for kindergarten with Christmas, but we get it over with. And then when we get back after Christmas, we are able to look at the data and make decisions and start the new semester off. And also, I think the time of day is really important. We always start the day with younger kids so they come in rested and ready. And we also have to take into consideration one thing that we've ran into this year, is if a student's not feeling it that day, we have to respect that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah, good point. Good point because it almost seems like it's a setup for failure unless they have the right mindset to return that information.

Beth Herod: Yes. Yeah. And so we really had a lot of conversations about the relationships that you build with students to get true data.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Beth Herod: And so it's important to take that into consideration.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. So do the teachers then have some leeway to decide?

Beth Herod: We have a window of time.

Ashley Mengwasser: Very good. Okay.

Beth Herod: And it's a pretty big window of time.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's good.

Beth Herod: So they can give the students some grace there if they need it.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's lovely. Let's talk about MTSS, and if you could tell me what this means, that'd be fabulous. But how does the MTSS process connect to our topic, screeners and interventions?

Beth Herod: Okay. MTSS stands for multi-tiered systems of support, and it's different tiers. And so when a student may first have characteristics that there's an issue there, we can provide differentiation before they move into the tiers. All students deserve a good-quality tier one curriculum. They all deserve that. But if it goes into tier two, that means that you're providing tier one, and then services for tier two. And so I've worked very closely in the last couple of years with the pilot systems for the dyslexia bill, and we've had a lot of conversations. One statement that, really, I held close was, "You have to have a strong MTSS process if you want to make a difference, if you truly want to make a difference." And so the screeners and that data, that is the backbone of everything we do within the MTSS process because that data shows us what intervention, and then we have to continue to monitor it to make sure. And one thing, if you have a lot of students that are in the tiers for a long time, then you really need to stop and think about what you're doing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. And we mean T-I-E-R-S, not T-E-A-R-S.

Beth Herod: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: If they're in tears for a long time, that's a different situation.

Beth Herod: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: What is the most important thing for school and district leaders to know about screeners and interventions?

Beth Herod: Well first of all, the Department of Education, they have shared lists and a lot of guidance documents to help systems to decide on the screener because legislatively, they have to have one now.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Beth Herod: And so I think it's important that you select a screener that you have the ability. If it's an online one, you want to make sure that you have the technology and the devices to be able to use it. And then you also want to make sure that you are choosing a screener that you can provide interventions and progress monitoring with.

Ashley Mengwasser: For, yes.

Beth Herod: For it. Yes. And so then one thing when I look at other systems, as well as Gordon County: You want to make sure your district leaders have a procedure and process in place to look at the data with the schools because you don't want all this wonderful data out there and then never do anything with it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Beth Herod: So create a process where you can look at it and talk about it and then provide support.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes. And I think in terms of the instruction that is going into literacy for kids that you're screening and intervening on, one of the things you said that is so fundamental, just like human beings in our bodies, is having a good diet of literacy for kids. How can leaders plan a good diet of literacy and what is it, in your opinion?

Beth Herod: Okay. Well, there's a lot. I read about it every day. Structured literacy is the big thing right now with literacy.

Ashley Mengwasser: Structured literacy.

Beth Herod: Structured literacy. And it goes back into the science of reading. I do believe that all of our students deserve a structured literacy plan where they are systematically receiving phonics instruction, but also starting with a phonological awareness piece.

Ashley Mengwasser: Letters and sounds.

Beth Herod: That's right. The sounds of letters, that's incredibly important. And then along with that, I believe that students deserve a chance to learn how to have choice in what they're interested in reading.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a good point because they do have some sort of compass within them ...

Beth Herod: That's right.

Ashley Mengwasser: In terms of what they like.

Beth Herod: And if you don't allow students to have choice, then some of them are just going to choose not to read. And so we have to give them a choice.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's going to be their choice.

Beth Herod: And raising two boys, they read things that are different than girls.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah.

Beth Herod: And also, I think it's incredibly important that you teach students to think through what they're reading. And so along with that systematic phonics piece, there's also the importance of learning how to comprehend and think through and analyze. And so if you look at the diet there, you want to make sure that your students are able to lift print off the page and decode, but then also think about what they're reading.

Ashley Mengwasser: Lift print off the page. That's an incredible visual. You speak so fluently yourself, Beth. I love it. Your mom taught you.

Beth Herod: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: She was in education, right? Tell me about your family's story around education.

Beth Herod: Okay. I definitely come from a family of educators. My mom taught for 32-and-a-half years. She started out in high school as a Home-Ec teacher. And then she used to laugh and say she got demoted to elementary, but she loved elementary. So she was the first of her family to go to college.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow.

Beth Herod: And so that was something that was very important for her, for my sister, and I. And so when we were getting ready to go to college, she said, "Girls, education is a great career to go into. You make a difference in people's lives. It's fun. It's a great retirement system. But y'all, if you want to do something different, that's okay." And so Becky and I both went to college. Becky was a journalism major and I wanted to do something with social worker counseling. But then at one point, when you're getting ready to truly decide what your major is, we sat down and we started thinking about ... We were both Rock Eagle counselors. We worked with kids and taught kids all summer long.

Ashley Mengwasser: Of course. 4-H, baby.

Beth Herod: Yeah. And then any job I had ... One time, I waited tables. I ended up being the trainer when the new people came in. I had been teaching my whole life. Even when we were kids in the summer, we would have the cats sitting in a circle and we were teaching them to read, try not to put them in time out.

Ashley Mengwasser: How far did you get with that, by the way? Did they learn to read, the cats?

Beth Herod: No, they did not.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, no. It's no testament to your work, I'm sure.

Beth Herod: The biggest goal was to keep them out of time out. But at one point, we realized education is in our soul. That's where it is and that's what we want to do and that's who we want to be.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's where your compass was directing you. And it's where you are now and you are still training and leading in a literacy capacity. One of the things your mom said to you that I think is my favorite thing that educators should remember forever, and it's this powerful, what did she tell you about a pendulum being an image for the field of education?

Beth Herod: Yeah, so she passed away a couple of years ago. She had Alzheimer's. But before that, we had lots of conversations about education. And I can remember at times because over the course of 26 years, I've seen the set curriculum change several times. I've seen the way we teach reading is changing. And change is good, but sometimes it's not easy. And I would talk to her about it and she would say, "Beth, there's a pendulum in education. It goes back and forth, and sometimes it goes forward and backwards. And you just have to learn from those things and hold on to what you believe in." Because at the end of the day, our focus should be our students. And if we do that, that then we're going to be successful and our students are going to be successful.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's right. I love that advice. I love that metaphor. And what does it tell you about what we can tell teachers based on that metaphor? What are your final words?

Beth Herod: I think what I would like to express to teachers is to be open, be lifelong learners. I do think that the change that's happening is good change. With reading and different things that are happening in the landscape of literacy across our state, be responsive and reflective. Look at where your students are. Think about what they need. Know when to slow down. But most importantly, just continue to be a lifelong learner. And it's going to be okay. It's not an easy job, but they're making a lot of difference and a lot of change.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yeah. It's not easy, but it's rewarding.

Beth Herod: It is.

Ashley Mengwasser: We hear that often here. Beth, I'm so glad we had you here today to talk about this. And as a leader yourself, I want you to kind of leave your parting message for the leaders out there, as well, across the state in their districts. What do you have to say to them?

Beth Herod: Okay. Well specifically, I think making decisions about screeners and interventions. I think it's important for leaders to get a good idea of where they are in their system with their data to make solid decisions about what type of screener they want to provide for their students, and then the interventions. I think, also, after you do that, it's incredibly important that you support your teachers so they understand the why of those decisions. So if I were going to support a brand new curriculum director in making these decisions, I would definitely want to have a conversation about what their data currently looks like, and then also look at the guidance that we're receiving, as far as what a good screener looks like. And then they're also going to have to financially think about what they can afford in their school system, and then put procedures in place to be able to administer the screener three times a year. And then even more importantly after that, how they plan on looking at that data after the screener has been administered.

Ashley Mengwasser: Beth, you put the lit in literacy. Has anybody ever told you that?

Beth Herod: No.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, I'm telling you, thank you for being so on fire for what you do. You're a great leader.

Beth Herod: Well, thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: We appreciate that. And you're a great teacher continuing to apply our conversations to your classroom wherever you are. We love our listenership. So much so, it's time for your Late in the Season screener inspired by Beth Herod. Are you gleaning valuable, applicable information from this content? Yes or no? Second, can you name a few salient takeaways that have bettered your work in education from our prior episodes? If you can't, why don't you go back and explore our wonderful cast of characters speaking on all education matters under the Georgia sun in seasons one through now. They're there waiting for you. And third and finally, what discourse are you craving right now to make your work in your classroom better? We want to corral the experts and bring that topic straight to you. Just email your suggestion to education@gpb.org. We'll be sure to intervene. See what I did there? It's been a pleasure. As usual, I'm Ashley Mengwasser. Bye-bye from Beth, and I'll be back to you next week with more Classroom Conversations. Goodbye for now. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.