Special-ed students get fresh chance with software that reads | NevadaAppeal.com

Special-ed students get fresh chance with software that reads

by Maggie O'Neill
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Zach Adams, 14, and a freshman, works on the Kurzweil 3000 software at the Carson High School library.

Success or failure in school for a special-education student like Zach Adams can depend on one seemingly insignificant word.

But the 14-year-old Carson High School student now has computer software available at Carson High that can define that word and move him onward to success.

More than 150 CHS freshmen and sophomore special-ed students are being trained on the software, Kurzweil 3000. Its primary function is to read textbooks to students.

“I like it,” Adams said. “If I don’t know what a word means, then I highlight it. I can go find the definition for it, and then it will read me the definition.”

Overall, the software will help special-ed students reach subject-matter comprehension, achieve higher academic scores, and help the school meet No Child Left Behind requirements.

As Adams listened to an article called “Saving the California Condor” in the library’s north computer lab, he adjusted the reading speed to a comfortable rate, between 165-170 words per minute.

Then he changed the voice of the reader to that of an old man. Soon he began highlighting difficult words and typing notes in the margin of the text.

Although the article is for practice only, a freshman science book is being scanned on $7,000 equipment by a teacher’s aide. The textbook will be the first available to special-ed students to use with Kurzweil.

“It’s another way to get things done,” Adams said. “I can listen to a word being spelled over and over until I am able to spell it myself.”

The Kurzweil software, donated to the school by its maker, is being used to track student progress by a research team from Landmark College in Vermont.

“Students do improve their reading skills with Kurzweil,” said Dr. Brent Betit, executive vice president of Landmark College. “Because they are able to access knowledge, they develop critical-thinking skills.”

That has become increasingly more important under the standards set forth by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under that ruling, all students – including those in special-ed – must achieve the same level of success.

As with many schools across the nation, special-ed students at Carson High failed to make adequate yearly progress last year.

Seventeen percent of CHS special-ed students achieved passing math scores, while 52 percent of special-ed students passed the English-language acquisition test. Both scores were failures under the federal guidelines.

“Landmark College and Kurzweil will be instrumental in addressing improvement with our (special-ed) students in their English language acquisition skills,” said Carl Henry, vice principal of curriculum and testing.

Special-ed teacher Shawn Schneider has taught at Carson High for 15 years and expects an increase in students’ grades and in test scores for No Child Left Behind.

“A lot of times, reading levels are barriers to curriculum,” she said. “When students with language difficulties receive an assignment they don’t understand, they shut down. With the Kurzweil, they can actually do it. It allows these students to know the content areas.”

Six teachers, about half the special-ed staff, have been trained to use Kurzweil. Landmark College uses the software for students at its college, which offers two associate degrees.

The program was introduced to high school officials by Roy Farrow, whose daughter, Maria, graduated from Carson High School then attended Landmark College.

“The beauty of this program, in my view, is what we can do is move people from special-education programs into the mainstream,” Farrow said.

When Landmark’s research is complete in three years, CHS Principal Fred Perdomo plans to keep using the software. The school has invested about $10,000 so far, and special-ed students, including Adams, like it.

“I look at this as a work in progress for years into the future,” Perdomo said.

Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at mo’neill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

Kurzweil Technology

allows students to:

• Type in notes in the margins of their scanned textbooks pages.

• Print out those notes to study.

• Type in footnotes.

• Click on difficult words and hear them pronounced and receive a definition.

• Have the text read to them at different speeds and in different voices.



The Kurzweil software is not the only new software at Carson High School aimed to help special-education students increase comprehension.

Inspiration has been loaded on 18 computers in the north computer lab and 32 portable laptops, which also all have Kurzweil.

Students use Inspiration when brainstorming on a specific topic, such as water sports. Students use Bubbles to connect their various ideas.

“It has helped me with organizing stuff,” said sophomore Jayne Sarkissian. “It really does help. It’s very easy to use.”

Words like “water-skiing,” “vacation” and “summer” can be put inside bubbles and linked as desired.

The bubbles can be moved by dragging, and when the student is done, the bubble diagram is turned into a printable outline with a simple click.

“We want the kids to learn to put their ideas in a bubble and make an outline and follow the outline in their writing,” said special-ed teacher Melanie Reeder. “That’s what this will do.”