Santa Ana Unified School District, CA

Helping Students Achieve Literacy by Third Grade

The Santa Ana Unified School District in Santa Ana, California, is large. It is responsible for educating 54,000 students across 61 schools in grades preK-14. A majority of its students, 65 percent, are ELL, and the district has a 30 percent bi-literacy rate — five times the state average.

Because of the district’s size and diverse mix of students, a critical focus for the district is language acquisition and reading instruction. Over the years, district leaders have implemented plans and programs to improve instruction, provide better support for teachers, and help students reach reading proficiency earlier.

“We’re working on this at a systems level,” says Nadia Hillman, former Executive Director of Elementary Education. “As a system, we’re focusing more and more on making sure students are reading by third grade. With this goal in mind, there’s a variety of strategies we use, and CORE is one of them. Our relationship with CORE is an essential part of our initiative.”

Expanding Partnership

That relationship started during the 2014-15 school year and focused specifically on lower grade levels in select schools. Over time, CORE consultants visited Santa Ana throughout the school year to work with the district in a number of ways. Some consultants engaged directly with teachers to monitor instruction, model lessons and provide coaching. Others spent time with administrators and school leaders to improve instructional awareness so they could provide ongoing support to educators. By the end of the engagement, the CORE team was working with 14 schools in the district. CORE also assisted in developing, implementing and expanding literacy programs for more teachers and students in higher grade levels across the curriculum.

Return on Investment and Learning

This progression was the outcome of quantitative and qualitative results. Data pointed to literacy gains in lower grade levels, with students increasingly reaching DIBELS reading benchmarks (see charts, below). “We also saw changes at the leadership level,” said Ms. Hillman. “There was a better understanding of what’s going to deliver on student success.”