Blog Post

Building Sustainable Literacy Reform in One School District

CORE’s Excellence in Education Blog post this month chronicles one district’s journey toward a sustained and deep commitment to reading professional learning and development. See what can happen when a district and CORE work together to provide reading professional learning to support teachers and administrators across a system.

Building Sustainable Literacy Reform in One School District

(By Dale Webster, Ph.D., CORE’s Chief Academic Officer, and Michelle Ramey, M.A., CORE Educational Services Consultant)

CORE has been fortunate to partner with a committed school district in Stockton, CA to improve literacy instruction and achievement. Lincoln Unified School District (LUSD) is home to more than 9,100 K-12 students with 62% qualified for free and reduced lunch and 15% classified as English learners. As with many districts across the country, over the past two decades LUSD has experienced a shift in its student demographics. This shift, along with the rigorous demands of the Common Core State Standards, has required improvements in teaching practices so that all students could achieve at high levels. Starting with the 2012-13 school year, Lincoln embarked on a plan to improve K-3 reading instruction and achievement across its elementary schools.

At the beginning of the project and through the 2015-16 school year, the schools were still using their 2002 adopted ELA curriculum. Despite having met the criteria for state adoption in 2002, the commercial curriculum had weaknesses in its instructional design, particularly related to foundational skills instruction. Seeing declining ELA scores, the district leadership felt strongly that teachers needed to know the scientifically-based practices underpinning effective reading instruction. This foundation would equip teachers with the shared knowledge to make sound instructional decisions and implement practices to “shore up” the weaknesses in the curriculum. Thus, LUSD began by offering CORE’s 3-day Reading Fundamentals course for all K-3 teachers and the 5-day Reading Academy for Title I teachers. Title I teachers “got it” – rather stunningly after Days 2 and 3 of the Academy – and they “took off”, leading the charge to raise reading achievement at their school sites. To support continuity and sustainability, the district continued to offer the Reading Fundamentals course in subsequent years to new teachers.

However, training was not the only item on the reform agenda. Research overwhelmingly indicates that training alone will not suffice to improve instructional practice. Sustained, job-embedded, highly relevant reading professional learning is necessary for meaningful improvements to take hold. Thus, regular site implementation support began in 2013-14 and has continued to the current day. During site support, teachers worked with the CORE consultant who provided expertise on instructional routines, data analysis, and differentiated instructional planning. Teachers learned reading professional learning that included modeled lessons, co-teaching, being observed, post-lesson discussions, data-analysis sessions, and lesson-planning sessions. All work was directly linked to each teacher’s classroom, students, and lessons in the instructional materials and the model lessons in CORE’s Teaching Reading Sourcebook.

LUSD didn’t stop with training and site implementation support. They wholeheartedly invested in two additional critical foundations for improvement: utilizing data and providing support to principals to begin building systemic capacity. In 2014-15, the district began using DIBELS with much confusion and pushback. However, by staying the course, the district and CORE helped teachers and principals understand the value and purpose of this assessment system. DIBELS is now a relied-upon tool for monitoring critical early reading skills and informing differentiated support to meet students’ diverse instructional needs. As a parallel strand to supporting teachers, the district instituted support for principals to effectively analyze data with teachers and to knowledgably observe primary grades literacy instruction. Like the Title 1 teachers, principals also participated in the 5-Day Reading Academy and received guidance in supporting rather than policing implementation.

As with any new learning, principals need ongoing guidance for how to effectively support implementation, and the plan at LUSD is to continue that support in the 2017-18 school year. The DIBELS data is showing a positive upward trend district-wide. In several schools, where implementation is especially high, the data has shown a great improvement.

Looking ahead to the 2017-18 school year, LUSD is still investing in ELA support reading professional learning from CORE; however, now there will be a stronger focus on building internal capacity. The district is building a team of teacher leaders to provide continued support with the newly adopted ELA curriculum. The consultant, while still working with individual teachers at the school sites, will periodically meet with the teacher-leader cadre to problem solve and provide deeper knowledge of the curriculum. The district administration, led by the Assistant Superintendent and the Director of State and Federal Programs, has been committed to a common, long term message on instruction, assessment, and ongoing support from all levels of leadership, as well as from CORE. Lincoln Unified School District’s sustained investment in reading professional learning, teacher growth, and instructional improvements has led to great gains and all eyes are to the future for even greater improvements.

Read more about Lincoln USD’s success here.

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