As a former kindergarten and first grade teacher, who later taught struggling readers in grades three to five, I was acutely aware of the reading instruction gaps that we weren’t filling. I saw those gaps firsthand when my first-grade students became third graders and were clearly missing some very important reading skills.
Adopting the Simple View of Reading model, and understanding all of the components of it and teaching reading according to science, was one critical piece that I had missed with my early readers.
I entered the educational workforce during the time when adults all over the country were still focused on battling the whole language vs. phonics war. It became about the adults winning and the only thing that happened was that our kids lost. They lost in a big way too. An educator’s job is to provide whatever a child needs whenever they need it.
My teacher training was not rooted in using effective diagnostic tools to identify specific weaknesses. If it had been, I don’t think I would have had as many struggling readers. This resonated with me in a real way because I could literally see the students who were impacted by those gaps. I could see that I wasn’t explicit enough, I wasn’t systematic enough, and I didn’t hone in specifically on those students’ weaknesses and deficits.
To address these gaps, school districts in Ohio are partnering with Educational Service Centers (ESCs) like ours to implement personalized learning that supports third grade reading mandates. As part of my role at the Trumbull County ESC, my first step was to design a consortium literacy plan involving six districts and apply for the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant through the state.
As part of the grant, we purchased Lexia RAPID Assessment for all participating districts and Lexia Core5 Reading for our elementary students in need of intervention. The assessment program serves as our universal screener that assesses the literacy skills most predictive of end-of-year reading success. It identifies not only which students are struggling but WHY they are struggling. Combined, the reading program and the screener give districts in Trumbull County a solution to assess and improve student literacy in grades K-5.
Strong literacy program with PD at its core
Our ESC, which has 12 supervisors who work across 20 different districts, includes a curriculum instruction department that supports every one of those districts’ curriculum and instruction departments. Through this joint effort, we knew that any technology we implemented had to include a strong professional development component. After all, we were asking teachers to change the way they looked at and orchestrated personalized literacy instruction—something that needed strong support from both the district and ESC levels. Only with that support could the literacy program be implemented with fidelity.
The ESC provides districts with professional development at every level, from training small groups of teachers to hosting county-wide PD days on specific topics. At these trainings, we model lessons and help teachers gain a better understanding of what the data is telling them. For the PD days as well as throughout the year, our literacy program vendor-partner provides key implementation support such as sharing information on classroom instruction, showing teachers how to use the solution and how to interpret the data to drive tailored learning for every student—all focused on the goal of giving teachers the knowledge and real-time data they need to be able to drive personalized reading instruction in their classrooms.
The information provided by the literacy assessment we adopted helps build teacher capacity. It delivers a detailed reading profile of each student, as well as class-, school-, and district-level reports with actionable data to help teachers prioritize and plan instruction. The program then connects teachers with scripted, offline instructional materials that target the specific skill gaps of each child.
Reading improvement and monitoring plans
Of course, it’s not enough to simply put technology in the classroom and provide professional development at the outset.
You also have to support the initiative on an ongoing basis. Our assessment tool helps us identify students most at risk for missing end-of-year benchmarks, and these students are put on a Reading Improvement and Monitoring Plan (RIMP)—a requirement in Ohio for any student who is reading below grade level.
Our vendor partner helped us revamp our RIMPs, which are now much more detailed and tailored to the specific needs of the student than ever before and include a custom set of interventions, including the reading program. The RIMPs are working documents that are monitored and updated as students’ personal progress is noted. This is important to us from a leadership standpoint. Thanks to our literacy solution, we know we are addressing individual student needs with fidelity.
Making informed decisions
Combined, all of these initiatives have taken a lot of stress off of our teachers and saved them time. Both programs—the universal screener that screens students for reading and language difficulties, and helps educators identify students who would benefit from explicit, systematic instruction; and the literacy program that delivers personalized learning paths in the five major components of reading—serve as a one-stop-shop that has completely taken the guesswork out of early literacy assessment and instruction and supported teachers in providing an enriching, nurturing learning experience in their classrooms.
Most importantly, struggling students now have a lower chance of getting caught in the reading “gaps” or becoming repeat offenders – which is key to better supporting our students’ ability to read by third grade.