4 Ways Charter Schools Can Improve Literacy Outcomes

4 Ways Charter Schools Can Improve Literacy Outcomes

Our students’ literacy skills vary greatly due in part because of the large population of ELL (English Language Learner) and economically disadvantaged students we have. Because of this, we needed a literacy approach that would engage our students as well as help teachers differentiate their instruction using reliable, easy-to-interpret real-time data.

After learning about Lexia Reading Core5, we rolled out the literacy solution in grades pre-K to 2 for all students, and in grades 3 to 8 for struggling readers. Working with our Principal, Mrs. Prieto, I set the program up, made sure our teachers knew how to use it, and then began monitoring our students’ progress.

We saw the positive effects almost immediately. For example, students in grades K–2 using the program achieved substantial growth. The percent of students working in or above grade level in the literacy program increased from 48 percent to 95 percent in less than one school year. And the number of students working below their grade level reduced from 52 percent to 5 percent.

Of course, educational technology implementations require good teacher support and student participation in order to work. Here are four strategies that helped ensure that our new solution improved literacy and reading outcomes:

1) Know a Student's Deficiency. If you don’t have a baseline to start the process, you can’t measure progress. When it comes to literacy outcomes, knowing where a student stands and the areas where he or she is deficient is a crucial first step. When a parent asks a question like, “Why is my daughter struggling in reading?”, you can’t just offer a general answer or opinion. Is she struggling in phonics? Is she struggling with r-controlled vowels? Is she having difficulty with long-vowel sounds? By zooming in on the specific problem (or problems), instructors can then teach to the specific need. One student might be excellent with initial sounds, for example, but less adept at manipulating those sounds. Another could be very good at blending words, but may struggle with breaking words apart and/or segmenting them. Also, don’t forget to factor in the emotional components like, how does a child see himself as a reader? What does the child think a good reader is? These emotional components are important aspects of literacy as well, and they come into play when you sit down to assess a child’s reading deficiencies.

2) Leverage Outcomes Monitoring. You can put multiple literacy programs in place, but if you’re not monitoring the outcomes then you’re doing your charter school and its students a real disservice. What's the purpose of using an instructional program if we're not going to look at the progress-monitoring reports and/or look at who struggled this week? Being able to pull reports according to grade level helps us quickly pinpoint which students need more help and which ones are making progress. We had a student in the second grade score at the pre-K reading level in the Core5 placement test. In December, the Lexia reports predicted that she had a one percent chance of reaching end-of-year benchmark and prescribed an accelerated learning plan in order to reach benchmark. We learned that in addition to the teachers’ efforts around phonological awareness, the student also needed concentrated work on comprehension skills. We immediately started doing 30-minute daily interventions with the student and guess what? She passed her end-of-the-year test without a problem.

3) Use Collaboration and Teamwork. It truly does take a village to help a student body improve its cumulative reading outcomes. Parents, students, teachers, reading coaches, and administration all play a role in those positive outcomes. And while technology is a great enabler, it doesn’t replace the human factor. Our teachers have data binders that serve as checks and balances to help the teachers understand whether or not their actions are really paying off for their students. I always tell teachers not to wait to invite me to a parent conference at the end of the year when the child is failing. I prefer to be a part of the team throughout the entire year. So at the end of the year, we can know with confidence (and documentation to support) that we were doing everything we should be doing to help our students succeed.

4) Set Reasonable-but-Lofty Expectations. Every year we set a theme for the school. Our theme for the 2017-18 school year, is “Determination is Our Super Power” and our goal is to get to 100 percent of our students using our literacy platform. Thinking back to a year ago, I recall a webinar where about 28 teachers sat in on the training. The person who was helping me with the implementation plan asked me, “What percentage of your kids do you anticipate will be using the reading program on a daily basis or a weekly basis for completing their assignments?” “100 percent,” I said, without any hesitation. She questioned that goal, but I stood behind it; we’re now very close to that number. Using an instructional program with fidelity isn’t easy, but if I’m asked the same question this year, my answer will be the same. In fact, I tell our teachers all the time that there’s really no excuse for having 100 percent participation. Achieving this goal takes hard work on the part of the teacher and the reading coach. For example, I’m often pulling the reports that predict student performance and reviewing them on my own time, so it takes a bit of “going the extra mile” to reach our goals. We’ve been an “A” school for the last 10 years, but that didn’t come easily. We all work hard, and we’re all very involved in our students’ literacy success.

Michelle Rojas is a reading coach at Somerset Academy Miramar in Miramar, Fla.