LA Unified Expands Early Literacy Program
After months of distance learning, literacy assessments at the start of the 2020-21 school year showed failing reading levels among the youngest students of Los Angeles Unified. But a new program aims to change that.
Primary Promise was launched as a pilot program last August to increase literacy rates for young students in LA Unified schools. Depending on the school district, reading scores improved for all students who joined, causing a massive expansion of the program. What started as a pilot project with 2,500 students will grow into a program with 14,000 students by the start of the 2021-2022 school year, and the district intends to continue to develop the program.
Across the state, other school districts have also implemented early literacy programs in their summer program and year-round curriculum. Alameda Unified Kindergarten to Grade 2 students in the Bay Area, for example, are part of a reading program that uses whole-class, small-group, and one-on-one instruction, in addition to assessments, to improve reading skills. In San Diego Unified, students with dyslexia and specific learning disabilities have the opportunity to join a program that offers specialized education while reading. And at Elk Grove Unified near Sacramento, students can participate in literacy camps during the summer.
Few programs, however, have spread as widely and rapidly as the LA Unified program.
One of the first to join the pilot was 7-Age Allison Franco Gutierrez. During the first weeks of the pandemic, her mother, Jazmin Gutierrez, saw how her daughter struggled to keep up during reading time with her freshman class at Gulf Avenue Elementary.
Each of his three children, 7 to 17 years old, learn differently, Jazmin Gutiérrez said, and the pandemic has negatively impacted all of her children’s learning experiences. But it seemed to have a more intense impact on Allison.
“She’s smart, but the pandemic hasn’t helped at all. Allison is my youngest and the one that worried me the most because she was falling a bit behind, ”Gutierrez said in Spanish, noting that there was a clear difference between Allison’s reading levels and those of. his siblings at the same age.
Allison’s teacher, Felicia Cisneros, also noticed her and suggested she enroll in Primary Promise. Gutierrez agreed to have his daughter join the pilot in August.
At the time, Allison was reading about nine words per minute, Cisneros said. Less than two semesters later, she is reading between 42 and 45 words per minute.
After other Primary Promise students showed improvement in their reading skills, LA Unified decided to expand the program.
The strategy of the program is to work in small groups while meeting the individual needs of each child. Students meet daily for 30 minutes in groups of three to five for 10 weeks. They share a group reading goal, but each student is also given the support they need based on their personal reading level. The district either assigns a reading teacher to each group or the classroom teacher of students is trained to provide small group reading support. Each teacher who leads a group is assigned a teaching coach to support them.
Regardless of who leads each small group, teachers regularly track each student’s progress on a tracking tool and meet weekly with other Primary Promise staff to compare teaching strategies, assess data and adjust, as needed, to help their students achieve a predetermined reading. goal.
This is how Cisneros came to be part of the Primary Promise. She attended a training session which introduced her to the program and then was assigned an instructional coach who supported her as she helped her students, like Allison, learn to mix words, read more quickly and get excited about reading.
“What I really liked was that it was a constant. We have met every week; we shared our strategies. It’s something we don’t often get the opportunity to do, ”said Cisneros, who has been a teacher for seven years. “And then you hear the other strategies of your colleagues and you start to collaborate. ”
The idea for Primary Promise began long before the pandemic, but the program came together in time to help youngest LA Unified students as they faced the repercussions of a sudden switch to distance learning. during the pandemic, Superintendent Austin Beutner said in an interview with EdSource.
Data from the district showed the impact of the pandemic on literacy: at the start of the 2020-21 school year, about 46% of first graders were reading at or above grade level, a drop of 11 points of the previous year.
“To put that in context, about 4,500 fewer first graders were reading at grade level at the start of this school year compared to first graders last year,” Beutner said. in a report earlier this year.
Every two weeks, primary school students take a literacy assessment called DIBELS, which means DDynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Competence, so that their teachers can monitor their progress. It’s not an assessment for the sake of taking a test, Beutner said. On the contrary, he said, it is “in order to take five or 10 minutes, to understand what was or are the needs of a particular student so that he can get help for that” .
LA Unified has used the same literacy assessment for years; the difference now is the way it is used.
“What is different is really this teamwork” said Alma Kimura, training administrator for LA Unified. “We have made these tools available to our teachers for some time. It is not something new to them. They have all been trained in the use of the tools.
She said the program is based on “a lot of things meeting. Superintendent Buetner’s vision of the primary promise, putting all these pieces in place, putting these coaches and coordinators at school sites, providing the funding to support that. It all came together to really create a real focus, that microscopic lens on what we really need for our youngest learners and our most vulnerable student populations.
Education experts have long hailed early literacy skills as fundamental to student success, but literacy rates have weakened across the country over the past year. Much of the loss is seen among kindergarten and first grade students, and most notably black and Latino students in those grades.
At the start of the 2020-21 school year, a national study showed that a significantly increased number of kindergarten and first graders were at risk of not learning to read compared to the previous school year. There was a 68% increase in the percentage of kindergarten students and a 65% increase in the percentage of first graders, according to the national study through Amplify education, the organization behind the DIBELS assessment.
“Learning is cumulative,” Beutner said in the interview with EdSource. “If you learn to read and write correctly, so many other things fall into place. Even early math relies on early literacy. You can’t solve a math problem if you can’t read the problem.
In one of the weekly checks last year, Cisneros students failed to meet their reading goals. She initially thought the change in the data meant her strategies weren’t working for her students, but her instructional coach reminded her that students’ lives change as they return to class and their reading changes. had improved considerably over the previous weeks.
It was this type of global recall that helped Cisneros understand that his teaching strategies were working, even during weeks when the data did not reflect his students’ reading improvements. As soon as they settled into their new school routines, data showed students continued to improve their reading skills, she said.
Based on this long-term improvement, the program is expanding not only district-wide but within Cisneros school. Gulf Avenue Elementary initially trained three first-grade teachers in the Primary Promise model. Today, its five first-grade teachers have been trained, in addition to a few third-grade teachers.
“This type of work can be replicated. The very idea of having teachers who meet and discuss data frequently and having these conversations around – where are we, what are the areas of opportunity, what are our strengths – it’s important ”, said Jose Soto, manager of Gulf Avenue, which is located in Wilmington, near Long Beach.
For now, Allison is reaping the benefits of Primary Promise. Her mother noted that a change occurred when Allison learned to put words together. Allison now chooses which books to read at night, and Gutierrez even joked that she needs to keep her phone away now that her daughter can read her texts.
“It’s like when you eat a piece of fruit and you like the taste so much that you want more and more of it,” Gutierrez said. “It’s like that when she grabs a book.”
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