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    ILA's Latest Brief Defines Contexts of Learning in a Digital Age

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Jul 31, 2018
    July LLB

    Instead of relying on the latest device or app, administrators should leverage the expertise of teachers to sustain classrooms that reflect the contexts of learning encountered in the real world, according to ILA's latest brief, Improving Digital Practices for Literacy, Learning, and Justice: More Than Just Tools.

    In our increasingly technology-driven and globalized world, literacy instruction should prepare students to “produce, communicate, interpret and socialize with peers, adults and the broader world.” These skills require a mastery of written and spoken language as well as a familiarity with literary devices and rhetorical structures and must translate across digital and analog worlds.

    “Intentionally building time for these online and offline literacy practices allows students to see themselves as agents of change across settings,” says the brief.

    The brief discusses the importance of designing digital instruction that mirrors the kinds of work environments students will eventually encounter in their personal and professional worlds. This means a shift away from rote instructional practices, rooted in individual tools, and toward digital resources that inspire students to “make, play, design, hack and innovate.”  

    The brief also explores technology’s potential role in perpetuating power structures and widening achievement gaps. When students do not have access to digital tools and resources, they are denied valuable forms of production and amplification that help spotlight areas of necessary advocacy.

    “When school administrators take away students’ phones or tell them to put them away during class time, they are teaching implicit lessons about the kind of work environments these students are expected to enter. In this light, digital literacies are a matter of social justice.”

    Instead of trying to disrupt inequality with “expensive devices,” the brief suggests that administrators invest in teacher knowledge of the contexts of literacy learning. This approach empowers students to participate in authentic learning activities that prepare them for real-world demands.

    The brief closes with a list of limitations to what digital resources can do (i.e., act as a cure-all for legacies of inequity) and a set of next steps.

    Access the full brief here.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Judge Tosses Literacy Lawsuit in Detroit

    By Colleen Patrice Clark
     | Jul 02, 2018

    rick-snyderAn unprecedented class action lawsuit filed on behalf of students in Detroit, MI, concerning their lack of access to equitable literacy instruction has been tossed by a U.S. District Court judge.

    The decision leaves ILA—one of several organizations to cosponsor an amicus brief in support of the litigation, which essentially declared literacy a constitutional right—disappointed, but with a renewed sense of purpose for why we must continue our mission to ensure equitable access to literacy for all students.

    The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, five students from the lowest-performing public schools in Detroit, alleged they have been denied access to literacy by being deprived of evidence-based instruction. They claimed that the school conditions to which they are subjected prevent literacy learning and therefore are in violation of their rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They alleged that these conditions are the result of decades of neglectful administration, inadequate support, and poor oversight on the part of state officials.

    The ruling, filed on June 29, questioned whether it is the responsibility of states to provide a “minimally adequate education” that ensures a child attains literacy.

    In the written opinion of Judge Stephen Murphy III, the answer was no, it is not.

    ILA, however, strongly disagrees.

    “The answer should, unquestionably, be yes,” argues Bernadette Dwyer, president of the ILA Board of Directors. “The right to read is a basic, inalienable human right. The ability to read enables an individual to function in society. It enriches the personal, social, cultural, and aesthetic dimensions of the individual.”

    The court agreed with that part.

    In his ruling, Murphy acknowledged that literacy is of “incalculable importance.”

    “As plaintiffs point out, voting, participating meaningfully in civic life, and accessing justice require some measure of literacy….Simply finding one’s way through many aspects of ordinary life stands as an obstacle to one who cannot read,” Murphy wrote. “But those points do not necessarily make access to literacy a fundamental right.”

    The judge pointed to a history of cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court has emphasized that the importance of a good or service “does not determine whether it must be regarded as fundamental.” Further, he stated that the plaintiffs failed to prove deliberate actions by the defendants—the governor of Michigan and several state education officials—that resulted in the current state of Detroit schools.

    Dwyer stresses that, despite the ruling, “we must continue to work toward the goal of an equitable education for all. Issues of equity, equality of opportunity, quality of instruction, and social justice should permeate all that we do to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn to read.”

    Douglas Fisher, immediate past president of the ILA Board of Directors, agrees.

    “We stand with the schoolchildren of Detroit in expressing our profound disappointment in the court’s ruling,” he says. “There is no quality education without literacy. We know this, and we also know that much work remains when it comes to delivering on equitable education. This decision only reinforces the work that lies ahead for literacy educators and advocates.”

    ILA had signed on to an amicus curiae brief in this case in 2017 to support the plaintiffs’ argument that literacy is a constitutional right, along with Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education, and the National Association for Multicultural Education.

    The plaintiffs announced their plan to appeal on Monday, so this is unlikely to mark the end in Detroit—or the end of defining literacy as a constitutional right. In fact, a similar lawsuit was recently filed in California.

    “Though disappointing, the ruling is hardly the end of this controversy,” says Dan Mangan, ILA’s director of Public Affairs, pointing out that literacy was a fundamental presence in the establishment of our country. “Although the founding fathers did not explicitly address education as a constitutional priority, they created a new republic by drafting documents whose content and stirring preambles were intended to inspire and guide generations to come.

    “Of course, these treasures and the entire Anglo-American edifice of written law mean nothing to the illiterate,” he continues. “We look for the day to come when the skills that brought forth such eloquence in Thomas Jefferson and others are fully and finally recognized as the indispensable frame for our identity as a people, and as a necessary component of our guaranteed rights.”

    Click here to read the full court decision.

    Colleen Patrice Clark is the managing editor of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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    Leaders React: Researchers and Leaders Tell Us What Stood Out to Them in the ILA 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report

    By Colleen Patrice Clark
     | Jul 02, 2018

    Six months have passed since we published our 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report, and the results continue to shape our conversations and the resources we provide—from conference programming to Twitter chats, and from literacy briefs to Literacy Today.

    This year’s report included survey responses from more than 2,000 literacy professionals in 91 countries and territories, ranking issues in literacy in terms of how much attention they are currently receiving and how much they should be receiving.

    For the six-month mark, we asked literacy researchers and leaders to reflect on the results and tell us what stood out to them. Not surprisingly, many focused on equity in literacy education—which ranked as the second most important topic in the report. Responses also centered on early literacy, digital literacy, and professional development. Read on, and be sure to share your thoughts on social media by using the hashtag #ILAWhatsHot or by emailing us at whatshot@reading.org.

    fisher“I am very pleased to see the focus on equity in the What’s Hot report. We still have a long way to go to deliver on the promise of equity, and literacy educators are uniquely positioned to contribute in significant ways to equity efforts. To my thinking, equity must extend beyond cultural proficiency and include excellent literacy instruction such that all students realize their aspirations. After all, literacy opens the doors to all other content learning and is highly correlated with a quality life.” —Douglas Fisher, San Diego State University, ILA President of the Board

    young“The people have spoken: Early literacy is fundamental in our field, and I completely agree. Developing foundational skills such as phonics, fluency, and reading comprehension is paramount. Still, some students struggle with the basics and thus it is imperative that teachers possess effective and efficient strategies for differentiating instruction. Considering our dedication, resources, and over a century of research, it is shocking that we still struggle to reach all students. In order to adequately equip teachers, researchers should continue to focus on the development of various interventions that support diverse learners with the basics of reading. There is no silver bullet, so teachers need numerous (perhaps endless) options. We want all kids to experience success so that they are free to enjoy the aesthetics of reading and writing and effectively use literacy to navigate their worlds.” —Chase Young, Sam Houston State University 

    lapp“It isn’t surprising that early literacy captured the No. 1 most important spot for the second year in a row. Respondents realize the long-lasting impact that early literacy has on all subsequent learning, emotional development, workplace success, and earning potential. The No. 2 most important spot was the need for equity in literacy education. Couple these with the latest NAEP data and it becomes obvious that specific action needs to be taken to ensure equity in early literacy learning.

    “A few things that could happen immediately to promote early learning equity include: identifying specific factors that are part of programs identified as effective; providing equal funding across states and districts to support early literacy programs that contain these factors; hiring well-trained veteran teachers and administrators with proven track records of success working in high-risk districts who believe all children have the potential to learn and should be provided with instructional opportunities and materials to do so; and engaging families and caregivers with information about how health, attendance, and home engagement affect and promote early literacy learning.

    “I am concerned that more attention wasn’t placed on teacher preparation even though it was identified as important. I, of course, believe that without very strong teachers who are supported by their administrators, no instructional change can be possible. So I would like to see more teacher preparation programs uniting university professors and classroom teachers in partnerships where they design and coteach courses in school classrooms. This alliance will disrupt business as usual that often finds professors and teachers at odds about what instruction and learning constitutes. School and university partnerships that involve teachers, preservice teachers, and professors designing lessons and teaching collaboratively will result in new teachers having a more solid understanding of the importance of connecting with their students’ families and communities to understand how they learn, how to plan instruction, how to manage equitable environments, and how to use daily insights about each student to design his or her next day’s learning.” —Diane Lapp, San Diego State University, ILA Literacy Research Panel Chair

    castek“In a globalized world, it’s important to look broadly at trends in literacy education that extend beyond national policies and boundaries. Looking for common connections across countries paves the way for shared priorities, new connections, and valuable global partnerships.

    “I’m surprised that digital literacies was not identified as hotter and more important because of the importance digital interactivity plays in college and career readiness and in everyday life.  Gathering and content creation are a part of our everyday lives and literacy practices, yet they do not get as much attention in our classrooms as they should. In order for students to navigate the expanded learning environments that the internet makes possible, learners need more instruction and more experience in school—especially students who have limited access at home. Digital literacies instruction directly relates to equity issues nationally and globally.

    “The section that outlined themes that emerged across topics was really valuable. The five topics—Equity, Community–Literacy Connections, Excellence in Literacy Education, Personalizing Literacy Instruction, and Building 21st-Century Skills—provide a call to action for instruction, research, and policy and can be jumping-off points for discussion at the classroom, school, and university level.”—Jill Castek, University of Arizona

    ippolito“As always, I appreciate the What’s Hot in Literacy report as a way to test my own assumptions and understandings of what researchers, policymakers, and educators think are the most important issues facing literacy teaching and learning today. Without the report, it would be all-too-easy for me to falsely believe that my own research and teaching passions are shared equally across the field.

    “This year’s report confirmed some of my hunches and challenged others. For example, I was pleased to see equity in literacy education and teacher preparation among the top five most important topics this year. However, I was surprised that neither was considered a hot topic, particularly given our tumultuous past year in the United States around issues of equity, diversity, and social justice. Similarly, I was not surprised to see digital literacy as a hot topic, but I was surprised that it did not rank higher in importance (i.e., ranked 13th). Given the focus on ‘fake news’ in 2017–2018 as well as social media’s role in politics, I would have expected digital literacy to be ranked as both hot and important.

    “Personally, the three topics that I believe are most critical in 2018 are disciplinary literacy, professional learning, and administrators as literacy leaders. Each of these topics was rated as very or extremely important, but not equally hot. With the Common Core State Standards still in effect in most states, and with increased pressure to prepare students for competition in a global economy, advanced literacy skills are critically important. However, to promote disciplinary literacy, we need administrators to be prepared and supported in working as literacy leaders. ILA’s Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017 clearly call for increased professional learning across all educator roles, with literacy leadership work being undertaken equally by teachers, specialists, coaches, and principals together.

    “If we are to move forward effectively, we need to work smarter, as literacy leadership teams, to design and support ongoing literacy professional learning to address these many hot and important topics.” —Jacy Ippolito, Salem State University

    dallhouse“I like that the report is representative of a diversity of opinions from the vantage points of educators from different countries who work in various capacities to teach and support the literacy development of students of multiple ages.

    “As the lead writer for Standard 4: Diversity and Equity in the ILA Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017, I am pleased with the recognition of the importance of equity in literacy instruction to address the achievement gap of students across all educational levels. I am hopeful that the No. 2 ranking in importance of this topic will lead to poignant discussions and strong advocacy efforts that result in greater priority given to instituting changes in educational policies and practices to improve student achievement and promote social justice." —Doris Walker-Dalhouse, Marquette University

    robertson“I was pleased to see the attention that both teacher preparation and professional development and learning have garnered in this year’s survey. Our teachers are our most important asset, and these are certainly topics that should be important and very hot. While resources are of course essential, if we want to create equitable contexts for literacy education, we need to consider (and continue to learn about) the types of sustainable preparation and professional learning opportunities that empower teachers to be agentive in helping all students get what they need academically, linguistically, culturally, and socially.

    “I’m surprised to see digital literacy falling out of favor. With the proliferation of technological advances and understandings of multimodal representations of knowledge, it seems schools are overly focused on using devices and programs for the sake of using them. With these rapid changes and the shifts toward more globalized economies, digital literacy should certainly be important, if not essential, to our advances in literacy education. We have important work to do with how these digital tools are used critically and with purpose to facilitate students’ abilities to process and produce texts, and to achieve personal, economic, and social fulfillment.”  —Dana Robertson, University of Wyoming

    aram“It is gratifying to read that early literacy is both hot and important. It is interesting that educators see its importance more so than researchers. Is it receiving enough investment? Do we have enough resources to explore it within the family where children develop?

    “Family involvement is important in the development of literacy. To promote this topic, there is a need for resources. It is easier to conduct lab studies or even to introduce literacy programs to kindergartens and schools. It is more difficult to involve family members in literacy interventions in a consistent manner.

    “Regarding teacher preparation, the gap between its perceived importance and how much the topic is considered hot is distressing. There is not enough connection between academia and the field. I am currently involved in efforts in various frameworks to make information accessible to those in the field, but there is much more to be done in this area.” —Dorit Aram, Tel Aviv University

    smith“We seem to agree that equity is important but we don’t seem to reflect this importance sufficiently in our work (i.e., equity is not on the ‘what’s hot’ list). Teachers can use insights about equity ratings to inform how they intentionally address issues of equity in literacy classrooms. Researchers can use findings about importance concerning administrators needing more literacy training to guide emerging literacy scholars’ research emphases.” —Patriann Smith, Texas Tech University

    kuhn“We know a great deal about the importance of developing young children’s oral language, vocabulary, and conceptual knowledge, as well as their ongoing benefits. However, to implement our knowledge in ways that will better ensure equity, we need to refocus our resources toward effective teacher preparation, professional learning and development, access to books and content, and other means of meeting students’ needs. The gap that exists between important and hot for these topics highlights the critical need to advocate for equitable funding across all our public schools.” —Melanie Kuhn, Purdue University

    dodge“It’s exciting to see equity issues ranked highly in both importance and what’s hot in 2018. Classroom teachers can use this information to bolster their advocacy and action toward equity and diversity in classrooms and push schoolwide initiatives promoting equity and diversity. Request funding for books with characters who have diverse backgrounds and experiences. Urge the purchase of books in native languages of EL students in your school and community. Push for professional development on having critical conversations about diversity through literacy. Teachers are on the front lines of making change in society. Keep advocating for equity!” —Autumn Dodge, University of Lynchburg

    Colleen Patrice Clark is the managing editor of Literacy Today.

    An abbreviated version of this article was first published in the July/August issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

    Click here to download ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report.

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    ILA Unveils Updated Standards for Literacy Professionals

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | May 15, 2018

    standards2017Published yesterday, the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017 (Standards 2017) are the first-ever set of national standards guiding the preparation of literacy professionals.

    Drafted by a team of 28 literacy experts from across the United States, and led by project cochairs Rita M. Bean, University of Pittsburgh, PA, and Diane E. Kern, University of Rhode Island, the updated standards describe the characteristics of effective literacy professional preparation programs, integrating research-based promising practices, professional wisdom, and feedback from various stakeholders during public comment periods.

    Last updated in 2010, the title reflects ILA’s expanded definition of literacy beyond reading. Standards 2017 promotes a broader repertoire of skills—achieved through more rigorous field work, digital learning, and equity-building practices, among other key changes—ensuring that all candidates are prepared to meet the demands of 21st-century literacy instruction.

    Standards 2017 sets forth a common vision of what all literacy programs should look like—and hands institutions a road map to get there,” says ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “This is an important step toward ensuring that all literacy professional preparation programs and practicing literacy professionals provide the foundational tools needed to deliver high-quality literacy instruction.”

    Although the category of specialized reading professional was introduced 20 years ago, there remained some confusion about the various roles and responsibilities. Standards 2017 delineates three roles of specialized literacy professionals—reading/literacy specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy supervisors/coordinators—explaining the differences between and among the roles, clarifying expectations and enabling preparation programs to meet more specific goals.

    Standards 2017 also revises guidance for the roles of principals, teacher educators and literacy partners and provides literacy-specific standards for classroom teachers for pre-K/primary, elementary/intermediate and middle/high school levels, ensuring that literacy practices are infused in all areas of the curriculum.

    Reading and literacy specialist preparation programs that elect to participate and whose scope and rigor meet the criteria outlined in Standards 2017 will be eligible to apply for the ILA Certificate of Distinction for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals (ILA CoD), which will help them to continually expand and improve their literacy programs, secure resources for improvement and attract applicants. ILA plans to expand the CoD program to include other roles at a later date.  

    Learn more at ilacertification.org.

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily. 

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    Key Takeaways From This Year’s NAEP Results

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Apr 13, 2018

    naepday1Test scores released Tuesday for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) marked a decade of stalled educational advancement, with negligible improvements measured only for performance in eighth-grade reading. 

    Aside from a handful of outliers—most notably Florida and California—national averages have barely budged, despite billions of dollars invested to improve outcomes.

    Compared to 2015, there was a one-point increase in the average reading score in eighth grade, but no significant change in the average score for reading in fourth grade. Only 36% of eighth graders and 37% of fourth graders ranked at or above the Proficient achievement level.

    Widening achievement gaps

    Moreover, the results reveal a concerning trend in which the nation’s highest-performing eighth graders inched higher, while the results for the lowest-performing students declined—an indication that achievement gaps are widening.

    In fourth-grade reading, the gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of students widened by four points. For eighth graders, national reading scores increased by three points—but only because students in the top 10% and top 25% scored higher. Scores for average and below-average students were flat.

    “We know we need to accelerate the pace of reform and improvement in our urban schools, and we know our achievement gaps are still too wide,” said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, speaking at a “NAEP Day” event in Washington, DC, “but these NAEP data give us the tools we need to ask hard questions about our instructional practices and where we need to improve.”

    Improving reading comprehension

    naepday2After the presentation of scores, Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of the Common Core ELA standards, moderated a panel focused on improving reading comprehension through knowledge-based curriculum, rigorous texts, and home–school partnerships.

    Daniel Willingham, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, said that, once students are fluent decoders, the key determinant of reading proficiency is background knowledge.

    Ian Rowe, the CEO of Public Prep, agreed, using his own district as a powerful example. In 2010, the New York State Education Department dropped social studies state assessments for fifth and eighth graders, prompting teachers to replace social studies instructional time with English and math learning. As a result, students began struggling with reading comprehension because they did not have the necessary context or content knowledge.

    “What really keeps us up at night are the early literacy outcomes,” said Rowe. “Because, frankly, that’s where the foundations are built.” 

    Pimentel stressed the importance of providing all students with rich, challenging texts. She said that although it’s common for teachers to give lower-level texts to struggling readers, this denies students exposure to more advanced vocabulary and language features.

    Tim Shanahan, distinguished professor emeritus of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a past president of the International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association), agreed that this practice is a disservice to struggling students, who spend the rest of their academic careers playing catch-up.

    “What we need our kids to do is read things that are demanding enough to drive them to overcome barriers to understanding,” he said.

    The panelists also touched on the importance of out-of-school factors, specifically family structure. Rowe said he would like to see a metric that measures the effects of home stability on educational achievement.

    “Poor reading performance is a problem for all racial groups,” said Rowe. “Poor white kids are far from proficiency.”

    What can we learn from Florida and California?

    The event ended with a series of presentations by state superintendents, who shared what they’ve done to increase performance. Common threads included robust standards, strong accountability and evaluation measures, ongoing professional development, and equity-building practices.

    Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, reported that “Something very good obviously is happening in Florida,” where 41% of the state’s fourth graders were proficient or better, compared with the nationwide average of 35%. Eighth graders scored three points higher on the reading test compared with 2015.

    Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said she attributes these gains to the state’s more rigorous academic standards, tougher state tests, and long-standing accountability system.

    California was another stand-out state, with a four-point increase in eighth-grade reading, driven by major gains in San Diego, Fresno, and Los Angeles. Glen Price, chief deputy superintendent for the California Department of Education, said the state has been working to build  districtwide cultures of literacy.  

    “Students read and write every day. Students truly understand the content and context of what they’re reading and how it’s connected to their own lives,” he said. “They leave our system not just with increased test scores, but prepared for the world.”

    Price said he looks forward to deep-diving into the NAEP results and using them to drive further improvements.

    “We use them as a flashlight,” he said. “We use them to inform work at every level.”

    Alina O'Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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