Expert Viewpoint

How One District Used Tech to Address Sinking Reading Scores & Overhaul Its Literacy PD

We knew we had a literacy issue when our district data showed that only 16% of our 22,000 students in TK–12 were reading at or above grade level districtwide. And while every campus was a bit different, it was pretty clear that we were dealing with major access and equity issues.

After creating my position as director of literacy and intervention, our 26-school district took the stance that reading intervention was needed across most grades. We also knew that everyone was in some way responsible for literacy — from the kindergarten teacher to the auto shop instructor to the office administrator.

Working together, we began to dig in and dive deeper into the root causes of the problem. Ready for a change, we started to broaden our understanding of the Science of Reading and doing a book study on “Shifting the Balance.”

At that point we started learning more about the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) professional development suite. It piqued our interest because it was developed by literacy experts Louisa Moats, Carol Tolman, and Lucy Hart Paulson.

As former users of the Open Court reading curriculum, we hold both Open Court and Dr. Moats in high regard. They both carry a lot of weight with our elementary teachers, who understand Dr. Moats’ focus and reputation.

This made the professional development suite a perfect fit for what we were trying to accomplish, but we first narrowed our choices down to three different options before making our final choice. We reached out to the companies, read their syllabuses, got our hands on the materials and asked a lot of questions.

In the end, we chose Lexia LETRS for its longevity in the marketplace and level of rigor. Some of the other options we reviewed felt a little ‘flavor of the week’ to us, but this one checked all the boxes of what we were looking for in terms of giving our teachers flexibility to learn on their own time in their own space and from the comfort of their own home. It also brought them together to work collaboratively.

Four Steps to Successfully Overhauling our Literacy PD

Here are some of the steps we took to ensure a successful overhaul of our professional development platform:

  • Develop a plan of action: Beginning January 1, 2022, we began offering the professional development curriculum to those teachers who requested it. We laid out a plan for the first full year of use and put together a scope and sequence of professional development that would kick off for the 2022-23 school year, with the first unit starting in March 2022.
  • Use cohorts: We established two different cohorts, including a group of 500 “first adopters” out of 1,3000 educators from grades TK-12 that started in March, 2022 and a second cohort that will start in August. Response has been very positive so far. We already have a huge list of people for the second cohort, and we’ve hosted numerous Q&A sessions for teachers, explaining what the program is, how it works, how to obtain credits and how to move up on the pay scale.
  • Make it worth their while: Speaking of the pay scale, our teachers are paid hourly for the time spent completing the professional development units and attending the workshops. We also offer the platform to our administrators, all of whom are participating in the program (and, also being compensated for that participation).
  • Get everyone onboard: We’re also bringing our executive cabinet, special education program specialists and other stakeholders into the system. We want everyone to understand that they are all teachers of literacy—whether they are teaching kindergarten, science class or auto shop. So even though literacy might look a little bit different to each of them, when discussing our professional development learnings, there are a lot of really great connections that our teachers can make to enhance their individual practices.

Embracing a Paradigm Shift

We talk a lot about equity among students, but where is the equity for our teachers? And, how are we providing equitable access to the science of reading and really helping to prepare them and not leaving it to chance?

We just don't want to leave it to chance that some teachers may come in with more knowledge or skill than the next. We want to have a clear expectation and understanding of what that means and what it looks like in practice.

About the Author

Kristen Anderson is the Director of Literacy and Intervention for TK–12 at Hemet Unified School District in Hemet, Calif.