This Amplifying Your District Award honored two district leaders who are driving change using the Science of Reading in 2021. Motivated by low literacy rates in her school district, Alli Rice dug into the research behind the Science of Reading because she was determined to increase equity. Through various events and Knowledge Builders for the teachers in her care, she then effectively led the shift to a research-based curriculum in her district. Read on for our conversation with Alli about her work with the Science of Reading!
What does the Science of Reading mean to you?
For me, it’s really about equity. Thousands of kids are already a step behind because of their skin color, their neighborhood, or their zip code, all of these things that really shouldn’t define their academic ability or their opportunity in life. I’ve looked at statistics around prison populations and illiteracy rates. Some, so many adults are functionally illiterate and they can’t fully understand. They can’t even read their prescriptions.
I also work for a district where most of our kids are on the lower end for socioeconomic status. We have a very high ELL population and 63 home languages spoken in my district. And we are the urban center of our area. Historically, we have been a balanced literacy district, but we have watched our test scores decline.
Since discovering the Science of Reading and this completely different approach to teaching literacy, I feel like I have unlocked Pandora’s box of potential. By addressing our core and aligning our teaching practices, our students can feel success and our teachers will, too. My teachers here have the biggest hearts of any educators I have ever worked with, and they work tirelessly day in and day out to support our students. We try to provide as many enrichment opportunities to all of our kids and to expose them to the greatest and the best. The ability to read, to me, is the greatest civil right. If we’re not providing them that, I can’t sleep at night.
What news, materials, or information do you consume to help you teach?
We use Amplify CKLA and Amplify Reading and those programs are just wonderful. I am also an avid listener of Science of Reading: The Podcast. We arranged for Natalie Wexler and Susan Lambert to do a live professional development session in our district, which was so fantastic, especially for our most reluctant coaches and administrators. Our district-wide LETRS training has also been life-changing. We currently have 800 people who are completing the training, which has helped to align the district and put us all on this path to success.
One particularly impactful thing, and that I rely heavily on for support, is my teacher cadre. Each cadre is about 14 teachers in the district and they represent all of our clusters. We’ve partnered up with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion department to do text bias reviews on materials, which has been important for our adaptations for cultural responsiveness. Our selection cadre came from that as well, when we landed on Amplify CKLA for K–3. The teacher input and camaraderie I get from my cadre is so instrumental and I am so grateful for them.
What advice do you have for teachers starting out with the Science of Reading?
Find your people, find your community. I remember Margaret Goldberg’s presentation during last spring’s Science of Reading symposium, and how she said you need to find your dots, you need to seek out like-minded people and go where they are. Find those people who are ready to make the change like you are, or perhaps have already done it, and can be that positive support system you need to make a difference. Don’t be afraid to message people on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, ask about their experiences, and build that community around you. Find the ones who are going to partner with you, who will lead you the right way, who will take your calls. And read all the books!