From Failing to Engaged—And Never Looking Back

Written by the Mary Hinson

Josh’s Story

I first met Josh B, a student at Catalina Magnet High School in Tucson, AZ, during the first week of the 3rd quarter of school. Josh spent more of his time in the hallways than he did in class. I introduced myself to him and found out that he was a 9th grader. When I asked why he wasn’t in class, he just shrugged. I did a bit of research on my own, after meeting Josh, and ascertained that this 9th grader had very poor attendance and was failing all subjects. I discovered that he had a Specific Learning Disability, which meant that he had average or above average intelligence and also had difficulty processing information in one or more areas.

The next time I saw Josh, again in the hallway during class time, I told him about an English class that I was teaching and asked if he’d be interested in seeing what went on and possibly consider joining our class. I used technology daily to develop student literacy. I inquired whether reading or writing was difficult for him and he said that it was. Josh ended up enrolling in my English class. He was the first non-reader at the secondary level that I had worked with. He could not even decode a 2 letter word. No wonder he was ditching his classes. Nobody wants to face failure every day.

20% of our Nation’s Students Do Not Graduate from High School. Why?

1.2 million American youth, according to statistics gathered by The Broad Foundation, drop out of high school each year. The Nation’s Report Card discloses that only 38% of all students nationally are reading at the proficient level; 62% are reading below the proficient level. Scores from The Nation’s Report Card 2013 show reading and math progress nationally are stagnant. They were virtually unchanged from the 2009 exam. However, scores in 2013 from grade 12 reading are 4 points lower than in the first assessment year of 1992. What is happening in today’s classroom to result in a decline in overall academic performance?

What are the issues educators face today and how can they be addressed to ensure that our youth are prepared to participate in and contribute to a global economy?

“Teachers are tired,” says Dr. Anita Thompson, faculty at Brandman University and California State University San Bernadino who supervises student teachers throughout the greater Los Angeles area on a daily basis. “Classrooms are diverse and teachers are ill equipped to teach such a varied population.”

“We need curriculum that is dynamic and flexible so that it is accessible to a wider range of students,” states Dr. Jeff Orgera is Senior Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at the University of Arizona.

“Resources are slim,” explains Mary Hinson, “Many teachers do not have enough textbooks for their students. There may be a “classroom set” of textbooks but, for many classes, students are often not allowed to take textbooks home to study or do homework.”

Mary’s Story

I was Transition Coordinator and English Teacher at Catalina Magnet High School and faculty at the University of Arizona. Since I assisted high school students with their transition to postsecondary education or employment, I often brought seniors to either the University of Arizona or Pima Community College to explore available options. I noticed several college students using Kurzweil 3000 and heard of their academic success. I was determined to bring this program to Catalina and received grants and awards to fund this endeavor. My purpose was twofold: 1) I wanted to provide students who were struggling or failing with the necessary academic skills to be successful; and 2) I wanted to offer seniors the opportunity to learn this prodigious program so that they could enter college prepared and utilize it immediately.

We brought Kurzweil 3000 to the classrooms during the 3rd quarter of the academic year. Students were able to customize Kurzweil 3000 to meet their learning needs. They choose the voice of the reader, set the speed, and have a variety of tools available in the program.

I taught English and used Kurzweil 3000 daily as an integral part of instruction. Students I recruited were failing three or more classes or were graduating seniors who would benefit from the usage of this technology. All of my previously “failing” students were passing by the end of the quarter and many made the Honor Roll. The seniors were thrilled that they learned to use the program before they went to college.

The following school year I continued to use Kurzweil 3000 with my students. I again recruited students who were having academic difficulty or could benefit from educational support. Most were reading or writing far below their grade level. Their scholastic improvement was amazing. Arizona students must pass the state exit test, AIMS, to graduate from high school. It is given 2nd semester of 10th grade. All of my students demonstrated huge gains on the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test. Many had gains of 200-300 points per subtest in Reading and Writing. Several “Met the Standard” for the first time. (Please see chart.) All of my students passed the Arizona Test of Writing Proficiency. I opened my lab up at lunch to any students who wanted to learn and utilize Kurzweil 3000. Catalina has a large ELL population and many of these students took advantage of this opportunity. Medical Magnet students would regularly upload their Anatomy and Physiology text into Kurzweil 3000so they could use the many functions of the program.

Failing Students to Engaged Learners

The transformation of student attitudes and engagement was astounding. Many of them were struggling learners and were used to failure. Some had Specific Learning Disabilities which affected the way they process and retain information. Several struggled with reading and writing. Yet, these students were very bright. This educational technology was life changing for those in my English class. They could access age appropriate curricula and finally experience academic success. What is different about this platform is it actually teaches the PROCESS of writing, organization, how to identify and use appropriate study skills, and greatly improves fluency in reading and writing. It gave my students the skills they needed to be successful in all of their classes. Most made the Honor Roll. Non-readers became readers. All students increased their reading and written fluency. My students were transformed from struggling and/or failing to academic success and once they experienced success, there was no turning back. They became fully engaged learners.

“My failing students transformed into engaged learners—and never looked back.”


Josh was a prime example. He, a student who could not read a two letter word, became an avid reader. Josh told me that he read Harry Potter the summer after 9th grade. He had been using Kurzweil 3000 for only nine weeks at that point. Something clicked and he loved reading. He read Harry Potter without using Kurzweil 3000. When Josh returned from summer vacation after 10th grade, he told me he read the Harry Potter series six times over his summer break. Josh’s AIMS results were outstanding. He had a 283 point gain in the Reading subtest of AIMS (His score went from 381-664 and he missed meeting the state standard by 3 points.) He met the state standard in Writing with a 253 point gain (his score jumped from 427-680.) He also passed the Arizona Test of Writing Proficiency. Josh graduated from Catalina and planned to attend college.

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