The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data shows that students’ reading scores are slipping, with 37% of students in grade 4 performing below the NAEP Basic level in reading in 2022.
Fortunately, we have the research and tools to work to reverse this trend—and more and more educators are using them. Using the Science of Reading, we unlock greater potential to restore those scores and support literacy development for this generation and the next.
But changes that big won’t happen overnight, or by themselves.
“The Science of Reading represents a really big shift in what folks are doing,” says Sara Thornton, a reading interventionist with Denver Public Schools in Colorado. “It’s a shift at the teacher level, it’s a shift at the school level, and it’s a shift at the district level. It takes a whole system.” Fortunately, we’re here to help! Over a series of three blog posts, we’ll guide you through the why, how, and what needed to make the shift and bring the Science of Reading into your school or district.
The Science of Reading: Impact of change
Humans are not hard-wired to learn to read. Reading must be taught, explicitly and systematically. A large and always-growing body of evidence proves it, and guides us in how to do it. That’s the Science of Reading.
Our friends at The Reading League say that instruction based on the Science of Reading “will elevate and transform every community, every nation, through the power of literacy.”
Broadly speaking, that’s why 32 states since 2013 have passed laws or implemented new policies related to evidence-based reading instruction. In those states and more, districts are making the shift to give students the literacy instruction they need to reach their full reading potential.
This shift involves cultural and practical changes from district offices down to individual classrooms and teachers. It requires time, effort, and a thoughtful step-by-step process.
Making the shift: The first phase
The first phase of the process is arguably the most important. Those in the field often like to call it Exploration. It’s where you gather the information needed to build buy-in among your stakeholders. That’s what will form the foundation for success.
The three key drivers of educational change are process, practice, and people. So let’s break the Exploration phase down into these categories:
- Identify key issues. Analyze data and gather feedback to assess the challenges and opportunities in your district. Document what you learn, then decide how you’ll communicate your observations to various stakeholders.
- Develop a plan. Prioritize the key areas for short-term action, moving the others into a 2- to 3-year plan to strengthen literacy practices and results.
- Provide stakeholders with resources. Curate a collection of digital resources—such as articles, research papers, and videos—that explain the Science of Reading. Organize them for easy access and sharing.
- Gather information. Design a survey or gather anecdotal information about your staff’s understanding and openness to the Science of Reading. Include questions that identify knowledge gaps and gauge receptiveness to change.
- Develop a shared vision. Collaborate with district stakeholders to craft a vision for desired literacy practices that reflects the goals, values, and aspirations of all.
- Engage a broad range of stakeholders. Identify and involve diverse stakeholders— teachers, administrators, parents, and community members—in all aspects of the change process. Establish clear channels of communication to engage and solicit input from all.
- Socialize the literacy vision. Communicate the vision through meetings, workshops, and digital platforms. Encourage dialogue and feedback to foster understanding and ownership.
- Share resources. Identify key articles or videos that highlight the need for change and the power of evidence-based instruction. Distribute the resources and encourage stakeholders to engage with them.
Checking your progress
These questions will help you assess this phase of the larger project and decide when you’re ready to move forward.
- Have we identified our unique issues based on data analysis and feedback?
- Did we establish a shared vision?
- Did we establish a plan for short-term and longer-term priorities?
- What literacy practices do we explicitly want to address?
- Do we have the resources and training we need?
- Have we engaged the stakeholders we need?
When you’ve checked all the boxes, you’re ready to move on. And if you need more information as you go, we’re here for you!