corbin interviews

Changing Lives with the Science of Reading


We spoke with two of the educators leading a new reading intervention implementation in Corbin, Kentucky as we built this case study on their district’s experience. We wanted to hear about the challenges and successes they faced as they introduced a Structured Literacy approach, based on the Science of Reading, into an environment where reading instruction had been focused for years on balanced literacy, and where students were routinely being held back for reading failure. Each of these district leaders offered their unique perspective on the process and the results they observed after seven months of using Structured Literacy reading program S.P.I.R.E. with their K–5 students. Read our Q&A to find out what they have to say and learn more about whether or not the Science of Reading really works.

Ashley Hill, Corbin ISD Chief Academic Officersnippet for hailey

Q: Thank you so much for speaking with us, Ashley. What can you tell us about your experience with Corbin’s early reading intervention program?

A: It has been an amazing experience, seeing the incredible improvement that has taken place in such a short time at Corbin Primary. When I was brought on board three years ago, about half of the kids were being sent on to the next grade without reading at grade level. My focus was on the primary school, with around 700 students in Grades K–2, since these kids needed the most help and reading intervention time.

The teachers had been using balanced literacy (sometimes called cueing) and this approach was preventing students from acquiring literacy skills. As soon as the teachers figured out that the balanced literacy approach was causing serious problems for students and instead started using a Structured Literacy approach with S.P.I.R.E., everything improved.

Q: What made you choose S.P.I.R.E.?

A: We chose S.P.I.R.E. for many reasons – we’d heard wonderful things about it, it’s based on Science of Reading, and we wanted the human element of direct explicit instruction, not just a program on a computer. We decided it was crucial to have an instructor leading students through phonics work every day. Each day Monday through Thursday, all students took part in reading small groups using S.P.I.R.E. The scripted lessons are a huge support system for teachers. S.P.I.R.E. has saved teachers from spending hours on prep work, while providing the ideal scope and sequence.

In addition, the progress monitoring feature S.P.I.R.E. utilizes, an online platform called STAR, houses an online space for data. After four days of intervention, on the fifth day reading scores are placed into the database so they can be mapped or graphed over time, because students in intervention who aren’t making progress can be recommended for special education. With S.P.I.R.E. we were able to quickly assess graphable student progress data by utilizing the STAR database, where the data points are collected. Before we started using S.P.I.R.E., we had no intervention program and no one was looking at the universal data; teachers were looking at their own results, but the data wasn’t being analyzed school-wide, and there was no school-wide schedule for interventions. With S.P.I.R.E., this changed to on-time intervention to fill specific gaps for each student.

Students benefitted because they were able to be referred, while the big win was that much fewer students actually needed special education referrals or were struggling at all in the tier one classroom! We found that kids who had been failing for years became successful by using S.P.I.R.E. for even a few months.

Q: What were some unexpected results you observed?

A: We hoped for improvement with reading, but we were stunned by all the other improvements we saw, including behavioral ones.

When a student is having difficulty with academics, they’ll often also show behavioral issues. But we found that students in these new groups doing S.P.I.R.E. had zero behavioral issues. They weren’t embarrassed in the small group setting. It was a supportive environment, and they felt successful for the first time.

Through the use of S.P.I.R.E., students were finally being equipped with the skills they needed to actually decode words and read texts. Many years of using balanced literacy produced students who were unfortunately forced to simply get good at guessing. S.P.I.R.E. and the small groups produced successful readers who had new skills and new confidence.

We used ESSER funds to hire new interventionists to work with S.P.I.R.E. and they were a game-changer. Among other things, they took on the task of inputting all progress monitoring data into STAR on behalf of the teachers. This allowed everyone to keep a close eye on the data for the first time, while also taking that extra work off the teachers’ plates.

Also, as we implemented S.P.I.R.E. and tracked the data, we started seeing students who were held back from fourth grade (these were struggling students who were showing no improvement) who would quickly progress after using Sounds Sensible (which is pre-Level 1 in S.P.I.R.E.). We started seeing students who had major behavior issues, or who were on track for special ed, clearly demonstrate to us through their dramatic improvement that they simply needed to be taught differently. And when we taught them differently, they began succeeding immediately.

Q: If you could sum up your experience with S.P.I.R.E. in three sentences, what would they be?


We have children whose entire life trajectory has been changed because now they can read. Every aspect of a person's life is altered when they unlock the power of reading. We love S.P.I.R.E.!


Angela H. Disney, Learning Loss Interventionist, Corbin Primary School

Q: Angela, thanks for speaking with us about your work with reading intervention at Corbin Primary. What has your experience been like using S.P.I.R.E. with these students?

A: S.P.I.R.E. has been instrumental in changing our school! We’re very thankful for how much it has helped our students.

All students using S.P.I.R.E. were in first, second, and third grades. When we began, we had some teachers who were excited about implementing S.P.I.R.E., but quite a few were more hesitant to try the new program. However, not long after we began implementation, almost all our teachers were fully on board. They were very excited about the progress they were seeing.

Q: What were some surprising things teachers reported to you?

A: One of the things teachers kept coming to me to report was the fact that students’ strengths and weaknesses were now immediately apparent. Our school is blessed with amazing teachers who couldn’t work any harder than they already do, so luckily S.P.I.R.E. has enabled us to build a framework that helps teachers see a clear path forward, while mainstreaming our data collection. In turn, this simplifies the referral process (when needed) for students.

S.P.I.R.E. has also made it more evident which students need to be evaluated for further learning needs. We look at MAP data combined with teacher requests to discover who will be administered the S.P.I.R.E. placement screener. For example, during one analysis we found six third graders (whose first and second grades were interrupted by COVID and virtual learning) who weren’t confident with letter names and sounds! This was a huge find, and it totally changed the course for them. By taking these students through the Sounds Sensible curriculum, teachers were able to fix big issues before they became much bigger problems, helping these struggling students become successful readers.

Q: Can you share a S.P.I.R.E. success story?

A: One of my third graders is a big success story for us. This student had repeated first grade, then that retention year was cut short due to COVID. He was a virtual student throughout his entire second grade school year. He had also been given every reading intervention we could access, throughout his time at the primary school. I placed him in one of my groups, as I generally work with the students that show the greatest need.

We had just acquired the Sounds Sensible curriculum, and I started moving through it with him and his peers. Amazingly, after just ten weeks, he was already demonstrating impressive mastery. I administered the placement screener again, thrilled to discover that he was now ready to move to Level 2 of S.P.I.R.E., totally skipping Level 1.

Around that time, his classroom reading teacher came to me to tell me this student had volunteered to read aloud in class, which he had never done before. He had then proceeded to read aloud from our tier one reading materials with accuracy, fluency, and confidence. His new MAP score then took him above the 25th percentile. He’s now transitioning to our elementary school, where I have advised their interventionists of his success and progress, asking them to continue to empower him to grow.

Q: What are some other results or outcomes of your experience using S.P.I.R.E.?

A: Interestingly, we’ve seen a significantly improved connection between the primary school and the elementary school. We are more cohesive than we have ever been. Throughout the year, our intervention team periodically meets to discuss what’s working, what organizational ideas we could share, how to share data, etc. This turned out to be a huge benefit of the program. We’re able to sit down and discuss each student and their transitional needs. Data folders are delivered to interventionists so they can hit the ground running with new students when school begins in the fall. Throughout the school year, I’m in constant contact with our classroom teachers who are using S.P.I.R.E., and we discuss individual progress, things that are going well, data updates, and ways to improve our framework.

We do try not to move students around more than necessary, but when we find someone taking off with their learning, we move them to optimize their progress. When we regrouped after our Winter MAP test and after readministering the S.P.I.R.E. screener, a classroom teacher came to me. One of the students in the small group had been moved back to the regular classroom due to her amazing progress, but began demonstrating some social-emotional issues in the regular classroom and at home. This teacher noticed that the small group had bonded and wondered if the student missed them. We moved her back into that group, and her issues improved almost overnight. The sense of community and its importance to these students was eye-opening to us. In these S.P.I.R.E. groups, the students were kind to each other, supported each other, and cheered for each other.

In one of my groups, I had a student with no consistency in his home life who was not receiving the help he needed. In our group, he quickly made progress, learning letter names and sounds, but most importantly he felt successful, for probably the only time during the school day. I was asking him to do things he could do, and even if he couldn’t do them at first, he felt secure enough to try. This meaningful benefit was consistent across all the students in these groups. When we stopped our groups near the end of the year, he hugged me and asked when he would get to come back.

One more: at the end of the school year, I asked all teachers to turn in their S.P.I.R.E. materials so I could inventory what we had. I also knew that teachers would possibly be teaching different S.P.I.R.E. levels next year, so I wanted to be able to reallocate materials where they were needed. One teacher sadly asked, “So I don’t get to teach these materials next year?” I assured her she would – just at a higher level!

Want to see success stories like these in your own school or district? Implement a program based on the Science of Reading, like S.P.I.R.E.

Students Win With Structured Literacy.

Teachers Win With S.P.I.R.E.

Supplemental ELA K–2
Decodable readers from a classroom favorite phonic program that has been promoting fluency in beginning readers for over 30 years.
Supplemental ELA PreK–8
Intensive intervention, offered in both digital and printed formats, based on structured literacy principles.  
Core Science PreK-8
America’s most awarded, most adopted PreK-8 core science curriculum.
Supplemental ELA PreK–8
​​Research-proven lessons that build reading success through an intensive, structured, spiraling curriculum.
Supplemental ELA PreK–8
Intensive, multisensory intervention for nonreaders, struggling readers, and students with dyslexia.
Supplemental ELA 1–12
A supplemental suite of solutions designed to help students of all learning abilities build ELA skills and raise their level of achievement.
Supplemental ELA 3–5
A hybrid curriculum that finds and fills gaps in learning.
Supplemental ELA K-2
Standards-based content that promotes scientific inquiry and builds literacy skills.
Supplemental ELA 3-5
Supplemental kits and texts to help students engage with the world around them.
Supplemental Science 3–8
Instruction, acceleration, and remediation in one powerful product.
Supplemental Math 1–8
Instruction, acceleration, and remediation in one powerful product.
Supplemental Science 1-5