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Read Act Revolution: Why High-Quality ELA Instructional Materials Are Necessary to Implement the Science of Reading

Read-Act-Revolution-Why-High-Quality-ELA-Instructional-Materials-are-Necessary-to-Implement-the-Science-of-Reading

Historically, balanced literacy dominated early and elementary literacy instruction. However, we know that this method doesn’t work, especially for historically underserved students.

Research and critical analyses have consistently highlighted the inadequacy of balanced literacy in developing effective reading skills. Even balanced literacy champion Lucy Calkins has admitted the need for “rebalancing” this instructional approach. 

The limitations of balanced literacy, coupled with the longstanding debates of the reading wars, have highlighted a concerning trend: a significant gap in student learning outcomes and a lack of nationwide implementation of evidence-based reading practices. 

There is a growing movement away from balanced literacy toward Structured Literacy. Structured Literacy is a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to literacy instruction based on language skills and the need to connect oral and written language to enable literacy. It includes foundational reading and writing skills in addition to the development of oral language and comprehension. 

The Importance of Structured Literacy Practices Grounded in the Science of Reading

In the past five years, over 30 states have enacted “science of reading laws” to promote evidence-based reading instruction methods. These legislative efforts mark a concerted effort to implement Structured Literacy grounded in the science of reading in schools nationwide. 

The momentum towards implementing practices that are aligned with the science of reading is palpable. The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and other organizations focus on five key policy actions, including the use of high-quality instructional materials (HQIM), to strengthen practices that are aligned with the science of reading.

Among them is the use of HQIM.

Read Act Revolution Why High-Quality ELA Instructional Materials are Necessary to Implement the Science of Reading
Read Act Revolution Why High-Quality ELA Instructional Materials are Necessary to Implement the Science of Reading

However, while some states have mandated the adoption of new HQIM through their Read Acts or similar legislation, others leave school districts with little guidance around this. Even in some states that mandate the adoption of new HQIM, little has been done to support districts to move toward using HQIM as a part of their transition to the science of reading and Structured Literacy.

School districts are left to rely on resources incompatible with science of reading and Structured Literacy practices. We believe that it’s imperative for states and their districts to embrace HQIM to facilitate an effective transition from balanced literacy to Structured Literacy practices.

It’s now more important than ever for educators to build knowledge and skills grounded in the science of reading and implement HQIM that supports Structured Literacy practices.

The Need for State-Level Leadership to Pioneer Change

In addition to building knowledge and skills to improve teacher practice and learning around Structured Literacy, the transition to grade-level, Structured Literacy–aligned materials represents a significant opportunity to make a big impact on educator practice and student outcomes.

The shift builds educators’ capacity to deliver evidence-based, standards-aligned reading instruction. Implementing HQIM also provides instructional coherence within and across grade levels at a school and thus lays a stronger foundation for students as they progress through the grades. Other advantages to consistently implementing HQIM are that it eases the burden for teachers to create lessons, provides coherence with district- and school-level professional learning, and ultimately improves student achievement. Simply put — consistent implementation of HQIM is a lever for equitable instruction.

For educators, the transition results in clearer guidance and greater confidence around reading instruction, improved assessments, and systemic change. In fact, if effective implementation of HQIM and Structured Literacy is treated as a systemic change that starts from the state, regional, or county offices and district levels, educators should experience this not simply as access to better materials. They should also see other benefits, including improved coherence within and across their schools, better professional learning, better data, and improved and ongoing support from leaders at all levels of the system.

The leadership role of states in providing districts with guidance and resources, including frameworks and vetted lists of materials, that align with Structured LIteracy cannot be overstated. This ensures that the transition to Structured Literacy–aligned materials is not just a change in theory but a change of practice in classrooms.

By developing a clear, detailed understanding of what constitutes high-quality reading instruction and how it can be implemented, states pave the way for a more robust literacy education system.

Two-thirds-of-US-Kids-Cant-Read-Fluently
Two-thirds-of-US-Kids-Cant-Read-Fluently

Recommendations for States: Guiding the Transition

To facilitate literacy education that works, states should develop detailed rubrics and guides to assist districts in adopting high-quality instructional materials aligned with the science of reading and Structured Literacy practices. For example, the Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines provided by The Reading League serve as an excellent starting point, offering a framework for selecting materials that are both high quality and consistent with the science of reading principles.

To facilitate literacy education that helps to improve student literacy outcomes, states should utilize existing research-based rubrics to support districts in their review and adoption of elementary literacy instructional materials. In the past decade, instructional materials have been analyzed to assess their alignment with Structured Literacy and the science of reading. Existing rubrics are available for public use, including the Rubric for Evaluating Reading/Language Arts Instructional Materials for Kindergarten to Grade 5. This free resource was published in 2017 as a follow-up to the 2017 publication

More recently, The Reading League (TRL) published its revised Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines (CEGs) and an accompanying workbook (2023) that are both available for free on the TRL website. The CEGs have been tested and revised based on feedback from states and districts that have used them. States can use existing resources available, such as TRL’s CEGs, along with consideration of other important contextual factors, as part of a rigorous review process of instructional materials in order to have access to targeted, vetted lists of high-quality, Structured Literacy instructional materials that are evidence and standards-aligned. In addition, on May 1, 2024, TRL launched several comprehensive reports on widely used curricula using the CEGs as a basis for their review. 

Additionally, EdReports has recently published reviews of K-2 Foundational Skills programs. They are based on new ELA Foundational Skills Criteria and Evidence Guides from EdReports, which identify the indicators for high-quality supplemental foundational skills materials. States and districts should consider leveraging these new reviews as they adopt early literacy HQIM that supports a transition to Structured Literacy practices. EdReports will also release  a revised comprehensive tool that reflects these ELA Foundational Skills Criteria and Evidence Guides later this year. 

In addition to using rubrics that assess HQIM for alignment to the science of reading and developing targeted lists that districts can look to during their own selection processes, states can also incentivize the use of HQIM by providing financial and other resources that support the transition from balanced literacy to new HQIM. The adoption and implementation of HQIM needs to be well-resourced up front, and resourced along the way to support the effective implementation of HQIM. Outside of providing professional learning to improve leader and educator knowledge and skills around Structured Literacy and materials, states should also be prepared to provide support around HQIM selection and implementation. By doing so, they can ensure educators are well-equipped to adapt to and navigate the continually evolving educational landscape. Through recent science of reading legislation, several states, including Minnesota and Ohio, have completed reviews and have published lists of approved ELA curricula. 

Such an approach ensures that districts are supported in selecting materials and through the overall process of adopting HQIM with effective, evidence-based literacy methods. 

Looking Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide to Supporting Districts in Implementing the Science of Reading

Two things are clear when it comes to the role of high-quality instructional materials in supporting states to be more closely aligned with Structured Literacy:

  1. It’s clear that the successful implementation of the science of reading requires the adoption and implementation of high-quality instructional materials. 
  2. States play a crucial role in vetting the many HQIM available in the market for alignment to Structured Literacy and creating targeted lists for district selection. In addition, states should provide resources to support adoption and implementation at the district level and professional learning to not only build knowledge and skills around the science of reading and Structured Literacy, but also HQIM. 

These insights are just the beginning of a broader conversation. In the next blog post, we’ll take a deeper look at the tools and processes that districts can use to shift from balanced to Structured Literacy through HQIM effectively. We also go beyond state-level initiatives and look at what districts can do independently, outside of state support, to embrace high-quality instructional materials that align with the science of reading. 

Examining both state support mechanisms and district-level initiatives will more comprehensively examine the shift to the science of reading, highlighting the need to support this work at all levels of the system.

Are you looking for information and resources on the science of reading to implement in your classroom? Browse CORE Learning’s library of free resources for educators.

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