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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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    ILA's Latest Brief Helps Literacy Coaches Choose the Right Instructional Model

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Mar 14, 2018

    March briefNot all models of literacy coaching are the same; “There are choices, and the choices matter,” according to ILA’s latest brief, Literacy Coaching for Change: Choices Matter. Drawing these meaningful distinctions can help teachers and coaches to make an informed decision on the most suitable model.

    With the ever-increasing emphasis on reading achievement in today’s schools, many districts are hiring literacy coaches to support teachers. The past two decades have given rise to a wave of major federal and state literacy initiatives that have significantly accelerated the expansion of coaching programs across the United States.

    The growth in the scale and diversity of instructional programs has engendered a critical need to define the varying roles and responsibilities of the literacy coach. Although each literacy coach–teacher relationship may have its nuances, the brief says three models of coaching for change are worth noting in detail: coaching to conform, coaching into practice, and coaching for transformation:

    • When coaching to conform, the coach provides expertise and direction on how to implement the features of a program under adoption.    
    • The coach assuming a practice perspective supports teachers in understanding classroom experiences, focusing on students as “the context for teaching growth through reflection.”
    • When aiming for transformation, the coach creates spaces where teachers can challenge their own practices as well as the historical power structures that operate within schools.

    The brief then provides guidance on how to choose a coaching model that’s in line with the teacher’s ideological beliefs, context, and goals. The International Literacy Association further conceptualizes the role of coaches and other specialized literacy professionals in Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017.

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

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    Arming Teachers Is Not a Solution to Stop Gun Violence in Schools

    By Marcie Craig Post
     | Mar 07, 2018

    armingteachers1The prevalence of school shootings in the United States underscores an urgent and, so far, unmet need of devising comprehensive measures that protect students, teachers, and staff in education spaces.

    While the specifics of those measures are, and ought to be, open to fair debate, the notion that arming teachers is the best answer to preventing recurrences of this type of tragedy is preposterous.

    We are already seeing action. State lawmakers across the country have introduced legislation specifically prohibiting classroom teachers from carry guns, such as in New York. And, earlier this week, the Florida state Senate took action to halt the movement toward arming classroom educators. 

    Teaching and security enforcement are two different roles. Combining them is impractical and unwise, even if proposed with the best of intentions. The challenges of effective literacy instruction for students are formidable enough. Neither teachers, nor students, should have to wrestle with the distraction of gun-equipped classrooms.

    Everyone deserves to feel safe in the classroom. Teachers need to give their full attention and effort to each day’s learning. They need schools unfettered by violence. What we are hearing from our members and other educators is that introducing weapons into the teacher-student relationship shatters any shared sense of safety and security.

    Talk to literacy teachers and you will quickly find out how precious a commodity their instructional time is, and how demanding a preparation is required for them to be at their most effective in the classroom. Asking teachers to learn how to use weapons, arm themselves, and undertake security enforcement roles while teaching is not only burdensome, distracting, and education-impairing, it’s downright dangerous.

    To place on teachers the additional responsibility of having to use deadly physical force against an armed assailant who has managed to enter school grounds with lethal ordinance distorts and perverts the teaching function. It further puts teachers and students at risk as shown by instances where weapons have accidently or, at times intentionally, been misused.

    It also gives would-be assailants the ultimate and undeserved victory of making schools a weapons-based environment.

    This is hardly the legacy that teachers and students at schools which have had to contend with episodes of gun violence would wish for. We owe it to them and to ourselves to do much better than that.

    The International Literacy Association denounces the very idea of arming classroom teachers. Yes, we should talk about how we can increase safety of school perimeters. Yes, we should talk about resources to help early identification and treatment for mental health issues. And yes, we need better communication and coordination between the agencies we have in place to protect us.

    That’s why ILA calls upon government officials, federal and local authorities, and school officials to fashion security measures for the nation’s schools that preserve safe learning spaces by keeping the instruments of violence out of them, save for those possessed by law enforcement officers.

    Many commentators on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy have noted the maturity and eloquence of the school’s students whom they have spoken with on the air. The students are indeed striking examples of the poignancy and power that literacy education instills.

    We’re proud of these students and proud of their teachers. We want to see a solution for school security that supports without diminishing the focused learning opportunities they have enjoyed and leveraged to such an impressive effect.

    Marcie Craig Post is the executive director of the International Literacy Association (ILA).

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    ILA's Latest Brief Helps Educators Explain Phonics Instruction to Families

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Feb 20, 2018

    Explaining Phonics InstructionDespite ongoing debates over how to teach reading, research has proven that phonics instruction is an essential element of a comprehensive literacy program, according to ILA’s latest brief, Explaining Phonics Instruction: An Educator’s Guide. Phonics helps students to learn the written correspondences between letters, patterns of letters and sounds, leading to word knowledge.

    “Because phonics is often students’ first experience with formal literacy instruction,” states the brief, “families might be anxious about their children’s learning.” Educators can assuage these concerns by answering families’ questions and by providing effective at-home learning activities.

    The brief shares research-based insights to explain the what, the when and the how of phonics instruction to noneducators, providing guidance on phonics for emerging readers, phonological awareness, the layers of writing, word study instruction, approaches to teaching phonics and teaching English learners.

    Key takeaways include the following:

    • Students should have acquired phonological awareness, concepts of print, concepts of word of text and alphabetic principles before beginning to learn phonics.
    • Most phonics programs incorporate both analytic and synthetic activities.
    • Word study is an approach to teach the alphabetic layer (basic letter–sound correspondences) and pattern layer (consonant–vowel patterns) of the writing system by including spelling instruction that is differentiated by students’ development.
    • Phonics instruction depends on the characteristics of a specific language; students who learn to read in multiple languages apply phonics that fit the respective letter–sound, pattern, and meaning layers.
    • Emergent bilingual readers and writers use their knowledge of one language to learn other languages.

    To read more, visit the brief here

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

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