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11 Key Questions for Selecting The Right Early Literacy Assessment(s) for Your School

Assessing early literacy skills is an essential part of ensuring that all young learners develop the foundational skills needed for reading success. 

A wide range of assessments are available to school leaders and educators, each serving specific purposes in identifying, monitoring and supporting a child’s literacy development. 

In this article, Sprig Learning explores the various types of early literacy assessments and provides guidance on choosing the right assessment tool based on your specific needs. 

The format consists of a series of 11 questions, as asking questions is integral at any phase of gathering information when deciding what is the right early literacy assessment for your school and students at this time.


1. What Is The Purpose of The Early Literacy Assessment?

What Is The Purpose of The Early Literacy Assessment?

There are various types of assessments in early literacy, each with their own purpose.  It is important to understand the early literacy assessment landscape when choosing the best tool for your school and students.

The primary types of early literacy assessments are listed below, with their respective purposes and examples mentioned.


Types of Early Literacy Assessments


Purpose: To quickly identify students at risk of reading difficulties early in the school year. Includes standardized tests and brief assessments of key literacy skills.

Examples: DIBELS, AIMSWeb, FastBridge.


Diagnostic Assessments

Purpose: To identify specific areas of literacy that require intervention. Includes running records of in-depth assessments targeting a comprehensive reading skill inventory such as phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.

Examples: Acadiece, Sprig Reading, i-Ready.


Progress Monitoring Assessments

Purpose: To track a student’s growth over time and evaluate the effectiveness of early interventions. Often includes regular and ongoing assessments throughout the school year to measure progress and adjust instruction accordingly.

Examples: Sprig Reading, CORE Phonics Survey, CKLA.


Formative Assessments

Purpose: To inform instruction by providing real-time feedback on student learning. Often  includes teacher observations, classroom quizzes and anecdotal records.

Examples: GOLD, Sprig Reading, Core5.


Summative Assessments

Purpose: To evaluate a student’s overall literacy performance at a specific point in time. Includes state standardized tests and end-of-year reading assessments.

Examples: Ontario’s EQAO, Texas’ STAAR, North Carolina’s BOG3.


Choosing the Right Assessment Based on Purpose

Selecting the appropriate assessment tool depends on the specific needs of the school and/or school district.

If the goal is to quickly identify students at risk, screeners are the assessment of choice. 

For a more in-depth understanding of a student’s literacy profile, diagnostic assessments provide valuable insights.

When it comes to tracking literacy growth over time and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions, progress monitoring assessments are essential. 

For real-time feedback on student learning and instructional planning, formative assessments are very handy. They are very similar to progress monitoring assessments, and can also include diagnostic assessments as a part of its wider definition. 

Lastly, if the aim is to evaluate a student’s overall literacy performance at a specific point in time, summative assessments come into play. 

In practice, many schools and school districts employ a combination of these assessment types, creating a comprehensive and well-rounded approach to address various objectives. 

The key is to align the choice of assessments with the specific goals and requirements of the educational context, allowing for a tailored and effective approach to enhancing early literacy outcomes.


2. How Often Should Assessments Occur?

How Often Should Assessments Occur?

It’s important to decide how frequently assessments need to be conducted in your classrooms.

For ongoing monitoring of student learning, diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring assessments are ideal. 

For periodic evaluations, screeners and summative assessments are better suited.


3. What Resources Will Be Required to Deploy the Assessments?

What Resources Will Be Required to Deploy the Assessments?

Assess the available resources, including time and personnel, for administering any assessment.

Some assessments, like formative assessments conducted by teachers, require minimal resources, while others, such as summative state standardized tests, can involve significant logistical planning and training.

But even within each assessment type, there are variations in the utilization of resources. 

For example, both diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring assessments can be considered a part of formative assessments. 

But the diagnostic assessments typically require more intensive teacher involvement. Teachers administer these assessments, analyze the results, and use them to develop individualized intervention plans. 

Progress monitoring tools are generally less time-consuming for teachers. They involve regular, brief assessments conducted at intervals, for eg. weekly or monthly, to gauge a student’s progress. They often include digital tools and technology that support the ongoing tracking of outcomes.

Regardless of the degree of teacher involvement and resources needed, it helps to have documentation and support available that guides teachers on how to implement an assessment tool effectively.

Professional development measures are required to be put in place that provide the relevant training and support for teachers on how to assess students consistently and effectively. 


4. How Individualized Should Assessments Be?

How Individualized Should Assessments Be?

Consider the unique learning strengths, gifts and needs of each student. 

Formative assessments allow for individualized analysis through running records and note taking. In both diagnostic assessments and progress monitoring assessments, many details of each student can be recorded.

For summative assessments like standardized tests, achieving such a detailed understanding is not feasible. 

However, these assessments serve the valuable purpose of evaluating both individual and group-level learning outcomes, which is a distinct advantage.


5. What is the Relationship Between the Assessment and Curriculum?

What is the Relationship Between the Assessment and Curriculum?

Ensure that the assessment you choose aligns with the curriculum and literacy goals you have. Assessments should reflect what students are expected to learn and achieve.

If the assessment focuses on one major learning outcome such as a reading level or reading proficiency, it’s a summative assessment. 

If it aims to gauge students’ pre-existing knowledge to determine their readiness and understanding of the curriculum’s concepts, it’s a screener.

If the assessment covers multiple skill sets essential for achieving a major goal in an evidence-based curriculum, it’s a diagnostic assessment. 

If it focuses on measuring finer details, like a subskill within a skill set, over time, it leans toward being a progress monitoring assessment.


6. What Type of Students Are The Assessments For?

What Type of Students Are The Assessments For?

Questioning who the assessments are for addresses accessibility. 

Evaluate the accessibility of the assessment tool, including whether it’s suitable for students with diverse learning needs and backgrounds.

Ensuring assessment validity and proven to mitigate  bias is critical, given the increased diversity in classrooms today, both in terms of learning skills and background. 

Bias is one of the featured terms that are essential to know in the cause for early literacy equity

There is implicit and explicit bias, and assessments must be both inclusive and culturally responsive to tackle such biases head on.


7. Who Will Be Doing The Assessment?

Who Will Be Doing The Assessment?

There can be multiple roles involved in assessment beyond just teachers. Sometimes there is collaboration between teachers and other specialist roles in the assessment process.

For example, reading specialists often assess students’s reading abilities and develop intervention plans. They work closely with classroom teachers to support student progress. 

Speech language pathologists assess oral language skills and phonological awareness. 


8. Are Assessments Easy to Administer?

Are Assessments Easy to Administer?

The rigidity or lack of flexibility when it comes to the administration of assessments may pose a hindrance to some early literacy school teams. But some assessments are more intuitive and easy to use than others.

However, it’s important not to mistake an evidence-based teaching framework for lack of flexibility. Teachers must still customize instruction for diverse student needs, hence there will always be scope for flexibility.

Formative assessments play a crucial role in enabling such personalized instruction, allowing regular tracking of student understanding of foundational reading skills to inform instruction.

Teachers will always maintain autonomy with assessments, because while it’s imperative to follow the evidence and teach all the foundational literacy skill sets to every student, assessments will determine if 1) students are ready to learn 2) if they are learning new concepts 3) if they are retaining the knowledge required to advance. 

Given their pivotal role and the demands for classroom teachers, it’s important  that assessments are easy to administer.


9. When Should the Assessments Occur?

When Should the Assessments Occur?


Timing (During the Academic Journey)

Assessments should be introduced as early as possible in a child’s life, because prioritization of early childhood education is critical. It is a powerful driver of literacy equity and there are strong ties between high-quality Pre-K education and primary education student performance.

The case for early literacy intervention is undeniable, and it is only made possible by use of early assessments, preferably starting at preschool, and not any later than Grade 3.


Timing (During the School Day)

A teacher can assess students at any time of the day depending on their daily schedule.

Here are some contexts in which assessment may occur:


Morning Routine

Some teachers incorporate brief literacy assessments as part of their morning routine. 

This can involve short activities like sight word recognition, letter naming, or phonemic awareness exercises to gauge students’ readiness for the day’s lessons.


Small Group Instruction

During small group literacy instruction, teachers may assess students individually or in small groups. 

This allows for more targeted assessment and immediate feedback, particularly for skills like reading comprehension, fluency, or phonics.


Literacy Centers

Many classrooms have literacy centers where students rotate through different small-group literacy activities. 

Teachers can use this time to assess specific skills related to the center’s focus, such as vocabulary development, phonics, or reading comprehension.


One-on-One Assessment

Some assessments, especially diagnostic assessments or more in-depth evaluations, may require one-on-one sessions between the teacher and the student. 

These assessments may occur at various times during the day, depending on the teacher’s schedule.


End of Lesson

Teachers often use the end of a literacy lesson to assess students’ understanding and progress related to the lesson’s objectives. This can involve quick checks for understanding of the taught concepts.


Scheduled Assessment Periods

In some cases, teachers may have dedicated assessment periods built into the weekly schedule. 

These periods can be used for more formal assessments, progress monitoring, or data collection.


10. Should the Assessments Have One or More Features?

Should the Assessments Have One or More Features?

Assessments could have other features that either add value to the assessment or complement it.

Small group instruction is one of the featured trends in a list of evidence based early literacy trends. Many schools have adopted high-dosage and high-impact tutoring in small groups. But with such efforts, ongoing diagnostic assessments are key. 

Assessment is needed on the journey from emergent literacy to reading mastery. In laying and building on a strong reading foundation, there is a need for individualized instruction which can only be administered on the basis of ongoing assessments that monitor progress. 

So then, it would make sense for assessment tools to have other features as well, such as differentiated instruction capabilities.

Also, to enhance reading instruction in the classroom, it’s recommended to make assessments fun and engaging. Thus, assessments could have recommendations as a feature, which suggest how to best incorporate it into play-based learning. 

There could be more of such value-adds and complements. The school’s early literacy team could consider assessment tools with multiple features to align with the diverse objectives of the early literacy team.


11. How Many Assessments Are Needed?

How Many Assessments Are Needed?

It can be beneficial to rely on more than one source of assessments. Especially, if there are multiple assessment goals the school or school division has.

Rather than one tool with multiple features, the school can consider multiple assessment tools each specializing in one thing. 

For example, specifically designing strategies for struggling students is a recommendation for improving reading instruction in schools. A school may have a large body of students who need extra support. 

These numbers will skew reading performance, and so it’s important to know this information. Thus in this case, addressing the root issue with an assessment such as a screener is important.

For improving early literacy achievement, stories of using multiple types of assessments are trending, where there are screeners, diagnostics, progress monitors, and standardized assessments.

For example, the Upper Grand District School Board Director of Education, Peter Sovran, assures that besides the EQAO assessments data, the district also has report card data and teacher assessments data to understand student progress.


Select The Right Assessment(s) For Your School

Select The Right Assessment(s) For Your School

Early literacy assessments play a crucial role in helping educators support young learners on their journey to becoming proficient readers. 

By understanding the various types of assessments and their purposes, school leaders, administrators and educators can make informed decisions about which tools to use. 

Whether it’s identifying at-risk students, tailoring interventions, monitoring progress, or evaluating overall literacy performance, there’s an assessment method suited to every need. 

Implementing ongoing progress monitoring was featured as a major takeaway in a prior article featuring some brilliant case studies on improving student achievement. It’s important that a school’s early literacy team is on board with the decision of what assessment to use. 

In that particular case, Chicago public schools administrators and educators set grade level teams to set growth targets in reading, math and attendance and would regularly meet in both grade-level and vertical-planning teams. 

Ultimately, the key to effective literacy assessment lies in using the right tool at the right time for the right purpose. Sprig hopes to guide you toward selecting the appropriate assessment through the questions presented in this article.

Navigating Back-to-School Challenges: Improving Reading Strategies for School Leaders

This article is the second installment in a two-part series aimed at assisting education leaders  in refining and enhancing existing reading strategies and programs for the upcoming school year. If you missed part 1, Starting Strong: How Educational Leaders Can Transform Reading in Their School, be sure to give it a read, as it offers valuable insights into how to lay the foundation for future reading achievement by addressing all aspects within the system.

This article delves deeper into what to watch for and how to continually enhance the implementation and sustenance of a reading strategy once it has been set into motion.


Steps to Uncover Hidden Challenges and Boost Reading Program Performance

Steps to Uncover Hidden Challenges and Boost Reading Program Performance

Enforcing comprehensive change in response to the increasing number of laws advocating for evidence-based reading practices necessitates a strategic, multi-step approach. 

Here are four amazingly practical steps for school and district leaders implementing evidence-based reading strategies, picked from a report published on Reading League, a national education nonprofit led by educators and reading experts. The author is Dena Mortenesen, Elementary Reading and Language Arts Supervisor for Waterbury Public Schools in Connecticut. 


1. Analyze and Adjust Assessments

Collaborating with educators and literacy coaches to assess the value of classroom assessments is essential. 

It’s crucial to monitor whether existing assessments are consuming more instructional time, as seen from Dena Mortensen’s experience of over two decades.

Evaluate if there’s a universal screener to identify at-risk readers and a curriculum-based measure to track progress. 

Remember that school district requirements are only a part of the assessment plan; teachers should also employ diagnostic assessments as necessary to customize lessons for individual students.


2. Analyze Curriculum and Secure Resources

Leaders must ensure alignment between their expectations for teachers and the resources they provide to enable them to meet those expectations. 

Empower teachers for success by equipping them adequately. Waterbury Public Schools used their newfound knowledge to establish criteria and make informed choices regarding the provision of materials and human resources. 

Dena’s team had invested in a foundational skills program for K3 and also a core reading program for K-5. They had also hired more literacy facilitators.

To kick start the process, start by evaluating the curriculum. Is it aligned with the principles of the science of teaching reading? Verify that teachers have access to research-based materials. 

Scrutinize the staffing structure to ensure you have the required personnel to teach the core curriculum and cater to the needs of students who may require additional support. If needed, reassess your staffing model and contemplate hiring extra assistance.

Provide evidence-based rationale to support change in areas where there is a need for overhauling the old way of doing things. 

Both educators and administrators become accustomed to the current curriculum and resources. There must be a compelling reason to encourage active participation in adopting new processes.


3. Redesign Schedules

The district implemented schedules that allowed for a total of three and a half hours to be dedicated to core instruction and intervention. Specifically, each school assigned 90-120 minutes to both whole group and small group Tier 1 instruction in reading and language arts. 

Additionally, 30-45 minutes were allocated for foundational skills, including phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, and handwriting or cursive (for grades K-3). 

An additional 45-minute block was reserved for intervention or enrichment activities. This scheduling arrangement was designed to ensure that expert reading teachers and tutors could deliver Tier 3 intervention lessons seamlessly across all grade levels throughout the day, without any scheduling conflicts.


4. Provide Systematic and Ongoing Professional Learning

With a roster of more than 400 elementary classroom teachers, it proved impractical to conduct in-person training sessions with each one. 

Instead, a system was devised to facilitate scalable training. In this model, 20 literacy facilitators underwent initial training firsthand using a Training of Trainers (ToT) approach. 

These facilitators, in turn, conducted training sessions for the teachers. Teachers benefited from continual support through bi-weekly Instructional Data Team (IDT) meetings and coaching cycles.

Beyond teacher training, literacy facilitators themselves underwent specialized professional development to enhance their content knowledge and coaching skills. 

Maintaining up-to-date expertise is of utmost importance, with weekly meetings between the literacy facilitators and the concerned personnel to exchange new insights and address any queries. 

Additionally, literacy facilitators convene weekly with principals and vice-principals during Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) meetings to deliberate on literacy-related matters. 

This approach underscores the significance of continuous, embedded training and communication in achieving success.


Length and Breadth of a Successful Reading Program

Length and Breadth of a Successful Reading Program

Exploring the four steps mentioned earlier provides valuable insights from a teacher’s perspective, considering their pivotal role in early education. Yet, it’s equally essential to view the educational process through the student’s perspective. 

This entails assessing individual student learning, comparing to standards and learning expectations, and monitoring their academic journey throughout the primary grades, recognizing the critical importance of each year in this foundational learning phase.

These two themes are explored as follows: 


Implementing Research-based Practices across all Three Tiers 

Jocelyn Auger, Principal of the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB), discusses the proactive measures her district implemented to enhance early reading proficiency among students. 

BGCDSB engaged its top educational and curriculum experts in researching evidence-based reading strategies. Drawing upon resources like Essential Practices of Literacy, Scarborough’s Reading Rope, as well as their internal Reading Continuum and Phonological Screener, they identified deficiencies in their instructional methods that had led to students lacking crucial components in their foundational literacy skills.

The school board began to offer relevant professional development opportunities to their primary team, and hire specialist roles such as instructional coaches and literacy consultants. It also implemented instructional changes in all tiers of interventions.

It also identified next steps such as: 

Delving deeper into the science of reading within their Primary Professional Learning Network (PLN). Transitioning to a school-wide PLN ensured that teachers across different grade levels had access to uniform learning resources.

Fostering professional collaboration to tailor interventions for individual students.

Establishing open and transparent communication channels with parents and guardians to discuss the specific strengths and needs of each student.

Embracing the evidence-based science of reading has proven to be a transformative experience within our institution. This literacy approach ensures that every student, irrespective of their background, entry-level, or prior school experience, undergoes systematic and thorough assessment and receives the necessary support.


Continuity In-between Grades

Utilizing assessments, standards, and a well-structured curriculum ensures educational continuity as students progress through the primary grade levels. 

Additionally, the abundance of student data offers valuable insights for schools, aiding teachers in effective class planning and decision-making. While kindergarten entry assessments can provide initial insights into incoming students’ academic abilities, it’s essential not to solely rely on them. 

A comprehensive approach, including ongoing assessments and observational measures, offers a more accurate understanding of individual student needs, guiding tailored instructional strategies.

Scheduling joint professional development sessions for preschool and kindergarten educators fosters collaboration and facilitates seamless transitions for young learners.


Specific Strategies for Coordinating, Monitoring, and Increasing Instruction Time

Specific Strategies for Coordinating, Monitoring, and Increasing Instruction Time

Regardless of the nature of challenges that are solved, whether they are teacher or student centric, a lot of it comes down to the actual quality of the instruction in the classroom. 

There is so much room for improvement when it comes to the coordination, monitoring, and the increment of instructional time, given the immense weight it holds in the success of reading strategies and programs.

According to Dr. Karen Carlson, former principal of Chicago Public Schools, the most effective elementary schools prioritize a reading-enriched curriculum for all students, commencing in the first grade with a robust emphasis on phonetics. 

Furthermore, this approach is reinforced through continuous monitoring to prevent any student from slipping through the cracks.

The following advice is extracted from a thorough two-year study conducted by the Academic Accountability Council, aimed at enhancing the coordination, monitoring, and maximization of instructional time.


Coordinated and Aligned Curriculum

  • Implement a curriculum with vertical and horizontal coherence.
  • Align school curriculum to local and state standards and assessments.


Monitor Both Students and Teachers

  • Employ specific techniques for monitoring educators, such as collecting, reading, and commenting on teachers’ lesson plans on a weekly basis.
  • It’s important to be visible and visit classrooms regularly. It’s good to meet regularly with teachers and grade-level teams to review student progress and solve problems that come up. 


Increase Time on Task

So much of reading success comes down to the actual spent time on providing instruction. 

  • Implement smaller class sizes or offer tutoring to maximize students’ time-on-task during regular school hours.
  • Create additional learning opportunities before and after school to extend overall learning time.
  • Consider extending the school day and academic year for all students, utilizing available discretionary resources.


Focusing on The Right Areas

Focusing on The Right Areas

In the National Research Council’s seminal report Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, the authors had identified three significant hurdles hindering the widespread adoption of effective reading instruction practices. 


1) The first challenge stems from a short-term approach to teaching, prioritizing easier-to-learn reading skills while neglecting vocabulary, conceptual knowledge, and reading comprehension strategies. 


2)The second obstacle relates to insufficient expertise among educators in effectively teaching these more complex reading skills. 


3) Lastly, the limited time within the school day and year presents difficulties in meeting high expectations for children’s learning. 


Throughout this article, the lack of research-based instructional strategies, lack of professional development to help understand and teach according to these strategies, and the lack of enough instruction time has been highlighted.

Hopefully, the advice given is helpful in overcoming some of these challenges and creating a roadmap for school administrators seeking to streamline their reading programs as the new school year begins. 

Starting Strong: How Educational Leaders Can Transform Reading in their School

It’s the beginning of another school year. 

It’s a time where many schools are looking at optimizing their current reading programs, tools, approaches and resources in order to improve early literacy outcomes.

For others, it’s a time to evaluate existing early literacy resources already in place.

In both cases, the new school year presents itself as an opportunity to do things right. 

Starting strong is essential to early reading success. Not only for young learners, but for teachers and administrators as well, where they review what has worked and what can be improved, to create an action plan that will serve them well for the upcoming school year.

This article will help school leaders to optimize early reading resources, engage educators, and implement impactful changes to elevate literacy outcomes.


Knowledge, Application and System

Knowledge, Application and System

Ensure All Three Are in Your School Improvement Plans

A successful reading program develops reading proficiency in every student and relies on proven practices. 

There are three essential elements that are vital for designing, executing, and maintaining effective reading instruction.

  • Utilizing instructional tools aligned with this knowledge.
  • Establishing school systems that support and cultivate successful implementation.


So it’s important to ensure that all three elements are a part of your schoolwide strategy to improve reading outcomes. 

Ensuring the presence of all three ensures the sustainability of a well-functioning early reading program.

Educators must feel supported with adequate professional development at a time when there is a strong resurgence of evidence-based early literacy. 

Furthermore, there must be an outlet for this knowledge to translate into classroom practices. Educators need to be equipped with the right tools. 

Finally, the school culture must be ready to embrace and support the cause to improve early literacy. 

When all three components are present in the school’s early reading program, this effectively supports actual practices, beginning with teaching strategies. 


Tier 1 Instructional Strategy


Build a Strong Core

Before all else, is your tier 1 instruction sufficiently comprehensive? 

If not, it could be a stumbling block to early reading success for students. 

Researchers have found out that choosing and implementing a research-based core reading program is the key first step in a model that is designed to prevent reading supports for most students.

Studies have explored different methods of teaching reading on Title 1 student achievement. The findings suggest that programs employing explicit instruction on foundational skill sets result in higher achievement, particularly among students at risk of reading difficulties.


Audit of Assessment Practices


Standardized, Diagnostic and Ongoing— Need for All Three Types

Assessment is a vital component of any effective reading program. 

It should align with the reading curriculum, allowing for the tracking of student progress and helping teachers gauge the pace of instruction. 

In such programs, assessment informs instruction for both large groups and individuals, with various assessment tools serving distinct purposes.

Statewide achievement tests, for instance, provide insights into systemwide instructional effectiveness. 

Diagnostic tests aid classroom teachers in planning instruction and communicating student needs to parents. 

Ongoing assessments guide decisions on groupings, instructional speed, and the need for individual support.

It’s important to audit your existing assessment practices to ensure that all three of these types of assessments are present. 


Regarding Content of Assessment

In the early grades, assessing foundational skills and strategies crucial for long-term outcomes, is of utmost importance. 

Consequently, early-grade reading assessments should be frequent and skill-specific.


Developing Differentiated Instruction Capabilities


Strengthen Differentiated Instruction to Realize Full Value of  Ongoing Assessments

Studies have revealed that in highly effective schools, more time is devoted to small-group instruction, which is a powerful approach of differentiating instruction to individual and group needs. 

Frequent and ongoing assessments, coupled with early intervention, facilitate students moving reading levels, a characteristic of the most effective schools.

It allows for adaptable pacing and complexity adjustments according to the level of the students. 

But there is no question of intervening without the ability to group students, or isolate individual students.

Thus, ensuring ongoing assessments that measure the foundational reading skills is just one half of the equation. 

In order to truly enable early reading success, teachers need to be able to differentiate instruction for their diverse classrooms, both in terms of background and ability.


The Runway for Early Reading Success

The Runway for Early Reading Success

Timing is really important. Some of the newer evidence-based literacy legislations that have been enacted will not fully come into effect until the 2024-2025 school year. 

Any forecasted academic improvements will take even more time to become visible. Amy Rhyne, Director of Early Literacy in North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction, says “Anything in education, it takes three to five years”

Transformation, as observed in North Carolina, is unfolding gradually, marked by disparities from one school to another, and sometimes even from teacher to teacher. 

It hinges on a delicate blend of encouragement, incentives, and teacher support. It is a challenging equilibrium given that many school systems and educators have long held the autonomy to determine what and how they teach.

A good way to plan for these legislative changes is to ask what is the change, how much is the change, and what can be done about it beginning today? 

The runway has to be adequately planned, so it’s a smooth ride before take off.

If a school’s reading program has already thought about professional development, its application into practice, the systems that will support it, and also how it plans to address tier 1 instruction, formative assessments, and differentiated instruction, it can then consider supporting teachers to be more deliberate about their teaching strategies. 


School Leaders Supporting Teachers

Teachers, even those with the most advanced knowledge and skills,cannot and should not be asked to carry the entire burden of improving reading outcomes for all learners. 

There is a need for system-level change. Distinguished early literacy researchers in the The American Federation of Teachers have listed 6 steps that teachers can implement in their classrooms now, which school leaders should start supporting immediately. 


1. Use academic learning time deliberately and purposefully to ensure students receive the maximum amount of evidence-based instruction. 

Academic engagement, often measured as “time on task”, serves as a strong predictor of academic success. Reflect upon the allocation of your teaching hours, ensuring a substantial focus on explicit instruction and high-priority skills linked to improved reading outcomes. Observations indicate that classrooms often underutilize instructional time for these critical skills. 

2. Consider the value of the one-minute lesson. 

Numerous students grappling with substantial reading challenges find immense value in concise one-minute lessons. These sessions offer a quick review of challenging tasks, the chance to practice word reading with immediate feedback, or the opportunity to showcase their understanding with feedback.

3. Offer customized instruction that reflects students’ learning needs. 

While some of your students may grasp reading effortlessly, others with reading difficulties, disabilities, or dyslexia demand personalized instruction tailored to their unique learning requirements. Start by scrutinizing their screening and progress monitoring data. Identify the key areas where they need supplementary instruction and practice. Then, strategize on integrating this work into daily individual mini-lessons or with small groups of students who share similar needs. 

4. Give struggling readers instruction in small groups, in pairs, or one on one. 

Numerous students facing reading challenges thrive when exposed to specialized instruction, which can be effectively delivered in small-group settings, paired sessions, or one-on-one interactions. These formats offer the flexibility to customize instruction to their specific needs, delivering the right balance of practice and precise, targeted feedback

5. Create many opportunities to read a range of text types and a range of text levels. 

Students encountering reading challenges find value in broadening their reading experiences to encompass diverse text genres, spanning digital, informational, and narrative texts. This diversity in text types shouldn’t be limited to older students; it can be integrated into the listening comprehension and text reading of younger learners, even those who are just beginning to read. With sufficient background knowledge, motivation from intriguing topics, and additional instructional support, students can engage with and comprehend more advanced texts.

6. Provide explicit instruction that incorporates clear feedback. 

Before teaching, clear expectations should be established for student actions and responses. It should be clearly communicated what they should know. Students must showcase their understanding of the taught concepts. Specific feedback must be provided that encourages the desired behavior while addressing any errors. 


Getting Teachers to Adopt The Above Techniques For The New School Year

Getting Teachers to Adopt The Above Techniques For The New School Year

Despite the involvement of three major agents of change—legislatures, researchers, and activist parents, persuading teachers to adopt new techniques remains a challenging endeavor.

Kymyona Burk, instrumental in driving Mississippi’s early literacy transformations and now a policy fellow at the think tank ExcelinEd, says “The hardest part was convincing others who had done things a certain way for such a long time that we needed to make a shift. We had to make a shift in our instructional practices; we had to make a shift in the curricula that we were purchasing; and also we had to just really come to terms with the fact that there were so many of our teachers who had come through our education-preparation programs who still were not equipped to teach children who struggle how to read.”

Mississippi initiated a comprehensive teacher retraining program, which involved a rigorous module that delves into the fundamentals of speech sounds, known as phonemic awareness. Several states have since adopted similar approaches. 

However, retraining educators with packed schedules is a time-consuming process and may not necessarily result in substantial changes to their classroom practices. As Timothy Shanahan,  former director of reading for Chicago schools and an early-literacy expert, points out, “There are tens of thousands of schools in the United States, and there’s limited oversight into their day-to-day operations.”


Need for Strong Leadership

Need for Strong Leadership

School leaders have the great task of working with teachers to gradually implement instructional, assessment, and differentiation practices that align with the extensive body of research aimed at enhancing reading outcomes.

Effective leadership at the local policy and school levels holds substantial influence.States and local districts wield significant financial power when it comes to educational decisions. 

Numerous organizations who advocate for struggling students, emphasize the pivotal role of school-based leadership in successfully implementing top-tier reading instruction and professional development. 

Research highlights how capable leadership correlates with commitment to professional development and teacher adherence to literacy practices.

By following the guidance outlined in this article, administrators can confidently kickstart the school year on the right footing. They will be able to evaluate whether their existing infrastructure and resources are primed to support teachers in implementing the practices that lead early readers to proficiency!

In Part 2 of this series, we will delve into the next steps, including navigating this new approach, addressing associated challenges, and strategies for overcoming them throughout the academic year.

Improve Student Achievement in Early Learning: Learn from 5 Remarkable Case Studies (Looking At 16 Schools)

Student success is often top of mind for educators and administrators. 

Most other early learning outcomes, whether academic, socio-emotional, or more holistic in nature, are intricately connected to the overarching goal of student achievement.

At Sprig Learning, our focus lies in finding effective early learning solutions tailored for teachers instructing preK to Grade 3 children. 

The mission involves facilitating successful learning experiences by presenting proven strategies that have worked for various schools, families and communities.

Sprig has previously presented stories and themes centered around enhancing early learning in school districts. This article covers successful case studies. It sheds light on 5 compelling case studies derived from 16 different schools across the US. 

Each case study is paired with key takeaways, providing valuable insights for both educators and administrators.


Case Study 1. Key Lessons in Closing Achievement Gaps: Insights from Successful Urban School Districts

Case Study 1. Key Lessons in Closing Achievement Gaps- Insights from Successful Urban School Districts

Credit: Google Earth. Charlotte-Mecklenburg School.


In the early 2000s, Houston Independent School District, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Sacramento Unified School District were able to reduce the achievement gap for disadvantaged and minority students. 

They demonstrated an upward trend of overall student achievement for at least three years.

Improvement was consistent and the rate of improvement was higher than in comparison districts. 

All three of these large urban school districts shared commonalities regarding what worked for them in improving student success.

They were able to align curricula with state standards and translate these standards into instructional practice.

In particular, attention was paid to the lowest performing schools to help them with resources, teachers and administrators. 

Data from early and ongoing assessments were provided to educators and principals to help identify both student and teacher weaknesses, so improvements could be made.

Changes began at the elementary level, emphasizing shared accountability between the board and superintendent for student success, with refined joint visions and enduring relationships.


Takeaway: Systematic and Acute Planning for Better Student Results

There were so many critical and important decisions at these three school districts. At the heart of it all was directed planning.  

It was decided from the beginning that the goal would be to improve the assessment scores of those students at the lower end of the achievement distribution.

Every other decision was made in support of this ultimate goal. 

The alignment between the board and the superintendent was ensured from the beginning, to solidify the vision.

The standard of content and instruction were raised that would benefit the students once the changes were made.

On a day-to-day level, the frequent usage of assessment data came into practice, which really helped educators identify students in need of greater support.

From top to bottom, the plan was created and executed to accomplish the set goal of reducing performance disparity.


Case Study 2. Boosting Literacy Skills: Andover Schools’ Success Story

Case Study 2. Boosting Literacy Skills- Andover Schools' Success Story

Credit: Andover Public Schools


Andover Public Schools was able to decrease the share of K–2 students scoring below benchmark on the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessment by ten percentage points for the 2018-2019 school year. 

DIBELS is a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of literacy skills. 

In that same school year, there was a 14% decrease in out-of-district placements. An out-of-district placement occurs when it is determined that a student needs more intensive support than can be provided in the district. 

Andover partnered with the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions, to develop literacy micro-credentialing coursework throughout the first half of the school year. There were 25 Instructional Assistants from 5 elementary schools that were selected.

The training included ten hours of instruction on leading literacy interventions. It also consisted of structured observations of both advanced and struggling readers.


Takeaway: Training Paraprofessionals Via Collaborations

Andover Public schools realized that their educators needed more support in providing the type of specific interventions that were required to help struggling readers. 

Such help was ensured very smartly through a collaboration with a local institution, so certain members of the early learning workforce could be appropriately upskilled. 

Seeing the success of involving the instructional assistants, Andover will continue to measure students’ growth in literacy over time, to deploy the right resources to services involving paraprofessionals.

It’s important to partner with the right organizations who have the capacity to train specialists who are adept at doing a particular task. They greatly help teachers in assisting those students who demand more attention. 


Case Study 3. Transforming Kindergarten Readiness: Indianola’s Inspiring Success Amid Challenges

Case Study 3. Transforming Kindergarten Readiness- Indianola's Inspiring Success Amid Challenges

Credit: Google Earth. Sunflower County Consolidated School District.


The community in Indianola, Mississippi was able to increase the rate of kindergarten readiness by nearly 25%, despite struggling with lack of access to resources and intergenerational poverty. 

Since 2014, there’s been a consistent rise in the percentage of kindergarten entrants who meet or exceed the assessment threshold predicting third-grade reading proficiency.

This was accomplished by working with the Indianola Promise Community to create better early childhood programs and services in the area and the local school district.

The Early Head Start Child Care Partnership program’s Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®1) scores from different teachers were analyzed to identify teachers making the most gains with their students.

(CLASS®1) is a PreK teacher-child observation instrument used to assess preK children. 

These high-quality teacher-child interactions were studied for modeling purposes. 

The strategic use of data to align early childhood strategies continued into elementary school. 

The Sunflower County Consolidated School District in Indianola had to build the culture of using data at the classroom level. 

The district created a tracker that each teacher, principal, superintendent, school could use.

The data from this tracker was used to identify students who needed extra support. Targeted interventions were subsequently personalized to meet students’ needs. 

The school district also regularly sent data cards home to families and provided activities to help parents interpret the data. 


Takeaway: A Joint Effort Between Early Learning Programs, the School District and Families.

What happened in the community of Indianola is a classic example of involving the whole community to be more child centric. 

By sharing data between the early learning programs, the school district, and the parents, it became easier to track student progress as they moved through the education system.


Case Study 4. Valuable Insights from Chicago Elementary Schools: Strategies for Elevating Standardized Test Gains

Valuable Insights from Chicago Elementary Schools- Strategies for Elevating Standardized Test Gains

Credit: Abc 7 Chicago


The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research conducted a study on 6 elementary schools in Chicago Public Schools. Three of the schools had improving Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) Scores, while three of them had declining or flat ISAT scores. The ISAT (now discontinued) measured achievement in both reading and math from grade 3 to grade 8. 

The schools with improving ISAT scores shared similar traits. The names were anonymized in the case studies. 

The findings provide an insight as to what can be done to achieve higher learning gains on standardized tests.

The lessons congregate around two themes — individualizing student goals and systematizing approach to meeting goals. 


Takeaway 1: Individualizing Student Goals

Differentiating instruction is the first step of the personalization of instruction. It usually refers to differentiating by groups of students. 

For example, in the case studies, the staff identified different tiers of support for student groups. 

Tutoring programs were made available for students who needed extra support. Counseling was made available for students with attendance issues. 

But beyond differentiated group instruction, a culture had been created to support and nurture each and every student at an individual level, without constraining any of the existing resources.

The staff encouraged students to set their own learning goals. Learning was very personalized where students took ownership over what they learned and met the goals they set for themselves. 

Indeed, activating early learners by getting them to own their learning is one of the suggested best practices of formative assessments, a type of assessment used widely by educators across North America. 

If anyone steered off track with lower grades or missed assignments, teachers met with the students and parents to find out what’s happening. 

There were also homeroom teachers in place to make interventions after observing a student and their behaviors across the different classes. 

In the Sprig Learning platform, it’s possible to filter down to the individual level, where a history of assessments and activities completed can be seen for any student. 


Takeaway 2: Establishing Mechanisms for Ongoing Progress Monitoring

The expectation for schools in the case studies, was for every student to reach high academic levels. 

The staff met in grade level teams to set growth targets in reading, math and attendance for the year. 

Teachers and administrators collaborated to monitor progress towards goals by regularly meeting in grade-level and vertical-planning teams.

Administrators helped educators  break down the data by student, classroom, and grade level. 

The Sprig platform also allows teachers, staff and administrators to filter data by classroom and grade, facilitating grade-level and vertical-planning meetings.

Even where leadership was decentralized and educators were given more freedom to take actions best suited to help their students, there was some sort of mechanism in place to ensure progress was being made.

At regular intervals (every 5 weeks, in one example), the principals or instructional coaches looked at student progress reports to identify trends. In grade-level meetings, teachers are asked to explain their choice of assignments. Coaches would provide feedback to teachers on their assignments.

Teachers would also get together to give each other advice about how to help students. 

Though collaboration time and preparation time were scheduled, teachers would often meet before and after school and during lunch breaks to discuss such matters.

Lack of time for educators is often cited as one of the major challenges in early learning. Even in success stories, it’s seen that teachers have to improvise work hours in order to accomplish everything that they want to. 

It helps to have a platform that keeps all student data in one place, and makes that platform available to all educators and professionals who consult on a certain student’s learning. 

It certainly speeds up things in getting everyone on the same page when it’s time to discuss learning needs, thereby saving valuable time for all educators involved. 


Case Study 5. Unveiling Success: Key Insights from Maryland’s High-Performing Schools

Case Study 5. Unveiling Success- Key Insights from Maryland's High-Performing Schools

The Maryland State Department of Education did a cross case analysis of some of its schools that were classified as high-performing or high-growth for disadvantaged student groups, such as students from low-income families, minority students, and English language learners. 

The performance or growth of such performance, was measured using the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the Maryland School Assessments. 

Looking at five elementary schools (Chillum, Bel Air, Chadwick, James. H Harrison and North Frederick) from four different counties, many common characteristics were identified. 


Takeaway: Empowering Education Through Data-Informed Strategies and Collaborative Cultures

Schools that integrated ongoing data analysis into their teaching practices demonstrated a commitment to understanding their current situation and progress.

This involved regular meetings among teachers and instructional staff to discuss data and adjust instruction based on insights gained. This foundation of data-driven decision-making enabled schools to identify areas of improvement and set up practices to address them effectively.

Additionally, revising curriculum, adopting new instructional materials, offering multiple interventions like tutoring and extended day academic help, and implementing summer school programming played pivotal roles in raising education quality. These multifaceted interventions catered to the diverse needs of students, offering targeted support to those who needed it most.

By zooming out to the entire class, schools could explore innovative instructional approaches and materials that aligned with both rigorous standards and individual learning styles. 

Ultimately, these strategies created a holistic educational experience, closing the loop on the data-driven cycle and fostering a collaborative culture that propelled student achievement.


Improving Student Achievement– Replicating Early Learning Student Successes 

Improving Student Achievement– Replicating Early Learning Student Successes

Having read all of these case studies, one notices that they each have slightly different goals. Some specifically wanted to reduce the success gap between groups of students, others catered more towards kindergarten preparedness, while others focused on raising performance on tests. 

All are however related to improving student achievement, which remains a topmost priority for all school districts and schools in North America. 

Whether it’s creating the right vision for early learning, or writing a high-performing school improvement plan, Sprig likes to present what works for schools with articles such as these.

The findings from these five case studies provide invaluable insight. They demonstrate that it is indeed possible to ensure school readiness, achieve greater scores and reduce the performance gap by taking the right actions. 

Hopefully, these shared experiences from school districts across the continent are useful to you. To explore solutions that help to replicate such early learning student success, please see our homepage.

5 More Emerging Themes for Success in Early Literacy

Building on this week’s article, 5 Emerging Themes in Improving Early Literacy, Sprig Learning is thrilled to present 5 more of such themes for success in early literacy.

Hopefully, this series has been useful in getting ideas and inspiration for taking on initiatives to improve the quality of early literacy programs in your classrooms and schools. 

There are more stories corroborating these themes, or exploring new themes that may be just as useful in rethinking existing literacy initiatives at your school.

Please subscribe to Root to Fruit, our twice-a-month newsletter on all things early learning, that thoroughly covers all such news items pertaining to early literacy improvement.

Stay completely updated on all relevant Pre-K to 3 news on early literacy.

Without further ado, here are 5 more emerging themes in improving early literacy. Let’s nurture a generation of confident and enthusiastic readers together! 


Theme 1: Principal’s Role in Literacy Improvement


In early childhood education, the elementary school principal wields significant influence over school administration. Their guidance is pivotal in making informed decisions about early literacy, from implementing evidence-based instruction and assessments to adopting new curriculums and managing funds effectively. Hiring the right principal with ample experience is essential for success.


  • Jill Bjorge is the new principal of Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd, Minnesota. Drawing experience from her background as a classroom teacher and literacy coach for many years in the school district, she wishes to provide every child a fun, safe and loving learning environment. Jill is a strong advocate of early childhood literacy, having previously developed a reading curriculum for Grade 3 that allowed her to meet the needs of a diverse classroom. 


  • Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board will add a system-wide school principal to support principals with learning recovery initiatives at all schools. Additionally, a special assignment teacher will be added to provide system support to English language classes. Funding for this move will come from the $3 million that is left of the COVID-19 learning recovery fund. 


  • For the past 5 years at Denver Public Schools (DPS), the percentage of K to 3 students scoring significantly below grade level has hovered around 22%. In 2021, DPS performed worse than all other big school districts in Colorado, whereas previously it fared at the top of this list. Inexperienced principals is cited as a major reason for this plummeting of scores. Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, wants more hires with a “strong background in curriculum and instruction”.


  • The Frank Defino Central Elementary School,of Marlboro K-8 School District in New Jersey, has been awarded a national Blue Ribbon award, in recognition of high student achievement for 2022. School principal David Stratuik cited the school’s Teacher Passion Projects as a highlight of the school and commended the staff’s efforts in going above and beyond for students and their families. 


  • Last year, just 27.3% of Grade 3 students at Jefferson Township Schools in Ohio achieved reading proficiency. As an example of a response, Blairwood Elementary Principal Anne Watson said the district is using a state-recommended curriculum, assessing students multiple times a year to monitor progress, and intervening to help families of those students identified as needing more support. 


Theme 2: Curriculum Reforms

Curriculum Reforms

Schools are widely introducing new curriculums that align with the latest research, scientifically proven to enhance literacy and numeracy. Such a move was inevitable, and it set in motion the need  for effective professional development for the new content areas, seamless integration of new lessons, and their accurate assessments—all stemming from a well-crafted curriculum update.


  • As Alberta prepares to introduce its new K to 3 language and math curriculum, schools are adopting varied measures to prepare. Wolf Creek Public Schools in Ponoka were able to get three full days of professional development ready for all elementary teachers. Edmonton Catholic Schools grew its contingent of curriculum consultants to get teachers ready. Teachers from Black Gold School Division in Leduc are engaging more in teacher-collaboration


  • The Ministry of Education in Ontario will be investing $109 million in 2023-24 to improve young students’ reading skills, introducing new early reading screening requirements and a standardized screening tool for students in Year 2 of Kindergarten to Grade 2. The funding will support additional specialist teachers, nearly 700 educators, and an overhauled language curriculum with a focus on mastering basic literacy from an early age.


  • Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) is using a new curriculum with a greater focus on phonics and professional development. It’s a departure from long-used leveled literacy interventions. Chief Academic Officer Marcey Sorensen says that the research shows “that leveling kids’ texts and not exposing them to grade-level text” can be harmful. FWISD is also partnering with organizations this summer that focus heavily on reading, but also address the whole child. 


  • Spring results from K-12 comprehensive tests were released in the state of Washington. In a pattern noticed in most school districts,language and math scores increased compared to last fall, but are still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels. This is especially true for math scores, which faced a sharper decline compared to language proficiency scores in the last two years in the state. In response, Central Valley School District in Spokane, have begun implementing a new math curriculum this year. 


  • Joshua Elementary School, in Lancaster, California, has adopted a new curriculum and is implementing more professional development for teachers to improve literacy scores for its students. After focusing on word recognition last year, as a part of its 3 year phonics program, the number of students not reading at grade level  dropped from 65% to 15%. In the current school year, the school has introduced a second new curriculum that focuses on language comprehension. 


Theme 3: Regular and Comprehensive Assessments

Regular and Comprehensive Assessments

The demand for frequent and holistic assessments is evident across North American schools. With the increased diversity of students in classrooms, in both ability and cultural and linguistic backgrounds,  teachers require a deeper understanding of each student’s unique educational circumstances. Regular monitoring ensures their comprehension of taught concepts. 


  • The Southern Berkshire Regional School District in Sheffield, Massachusetts, has seen a 38% increase in math skills for its Kindergarten to Grade 8 students. Superintendent Beth Regulbuto is happy with a new system of regular assessments that monitor student progress in real-time, instead of just assessing once a year. She attributes the improvement in math skills to the instant identification of skill gaps, which results in a greater individualized learning experience.


  • The Algoma District School Board (ADSB) welcomed 68 multilingual students speaking 16 languages for the new school year. ADSB has a student registration process which includes a family interview. It allows them to get information about each child’s prior educational experiences, language profile and interests. As multilingual learners increase in enrollment, ADSB strives to provide a welcoming learning environment to all.



Theme 4: Small Group Instruction

Small Group Instruction

There is overwhelming evidence that supports the idea of differentiated instruction. Small group instruction is efficient at improving learning outcomes, and also effective to administer for schools, because the same lesson can be delivered to more than one student. As such, the shift towards scheduled small group instruction models for things such as interventions and summer programs is widely observed.


  • In Chelmsford Valley District Composite School’s daily practice, there are more than 40 small reading groups and multiple targeted reading interventions. Reading Stars are rewarded to recognize an increase in reading level and are used to celebrate both individual and school success. The Ontario-based school was recently selected to participate in the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation’s annual fundraising program. Donations will be used to purchase library books.


  • The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board ran their summer learning program in July. The program focused on students sustaining or making gains in literacy and numeracy skills. Students used engaging resources, games, and hands-on learning activities in small groups, to develop  effective strategies in reading, writing and math. They also had a chance to experience Indigenous stories, arts and songs. 


  • Carson City School District’s literacy plan for K-3 students has been a success in improving early reading interventions. Cheryl Macy, director of equity in curriculum and instruction, says that “schools have scheduled time for differentiated instruction to target specific student needs.” But administrators believe that more professional development for teachers is needed to keep fourth and fifth-grade students on course to reading mastery.



Theme 5: Special Tools and Resources to Support Curriculum

Special Tools and Resources to Support Curriculum

Amidst curricular reforms, as stated in theme number 2, the need for supplementary and complementary tools has emerged. Trained personnel and proper oversight are crucial in introducing and managing these new curricula, but the right learning tools and resources are equally vital when it comes to addressing areas such as instruction, assessment and intervention. Schools are witnessing positive results by embracing these tools to enrich the new curricula.


  • The Woodland Park School District in Colorado performed very well in the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) District and School Performance Framework. The CDE assesses district performance based on both student achievement and student growth. Tina Cassens, Director of Student Success, says that there was an “incredible gain in all scores” for kindergarten through Grade 3. One of the reasons stated for this is the implementation of the newly adopted K-5 literacy program.


  • Brewbaker Primary School (BPS) in Montgomery Alabama raised their percentage of proficient readers at Grade 2 from 18% in 2019 to 62% in 2022. BPS has a 98% minority student population. Principal Jaclyn Brown believes that their school culture and adoption of a computer-based reading assistant were the two main drivers of this success. The latter is based on the Science of Reading. It listens to students read and applies customized interventions, saving teachers time spent on diagnostic work.


  • New Chief Education Officer of Chicago Public Schools, Bogdana Chkoumbova, was asked about the post-pandemic academic status of students and the efforts which have yielded best results thus far. Acknowledging that there is a lot of catching up to do, she emphasized strong classroom instruction and student support as being two major difference makers. She praised the schools that were “looking for quality curriculum resources”.


Achieve Early Literacy Success with These Themes

In conclusion, these 5 themes offer valuable insights for achieving early literacy success. Consider how these ideas can inform your strategies and actions in your schools. If you found these themes helpful, don’t miss part 1 of this article that was mentioned in the intro. Also, do explore 46 Stories of Improving Early Literacy Achievement in Schools, which was the original article to create themes out of stories such as these.

5 Emerging Themes in Improving Early Literacy

In December of last year, Sprig Learning published 46 Stories of Improving Early Literacy Achievement in Schools. If you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, it is highly recommended. It features 46 amazing stories that offer valuable insights and inspiration for improving literacy in schools and preschools.

Out of the 46 stories, 7 were showcased in the early learning centers/preschool section, while the remaining 39 were highlighted in the school/school districts/school boards section.


These 39 cases revealed several common themes that are worth noting, summarized as follows:

  • Effective Implementation of Full-Day Kindergarten
  • Appropriate Utilization of Learning Recovery Funds
  • Personalized Learning through One-on-One Tutoring
  • Ample Professional Learning Opportunities for Educators
  • Facilitating Teacher Collaboration
  • Focusing on Biliteracy
  • Creating New Schools and Gradually Adding Grade Levels
  • Providing Summer Learning Opportunities


In total, these themes add up to 8 key themes for promoting literacy excellence.

Sprig compiled these stories from its newsletter, Root to Fruit, and there’s more to explore! 

Subscribe to Root to Fruit. Stay completely updated on all relevant Pre-K to 3 news on early literacy.

Additional stories from past editions of the newsletter have been organized into 5 more themes, each offering valuable insights for early literacy achievement.

The 5 themes are as follows…


Theme 1: Increasing Access to Early Childhood Education Centers and Programs.

Increasing Access to Early Childhood Education Centers and Programs

In the quest to provide high-quality early childhood education, schools, non-profit organizations, and universities are all opening preschool programs and early learning centers. Additionally, some states have official initiatives, like transitional kindergarten, aiming to enhance ECE accessibility universally. The crucial link between preschool attendance and kindergarten readiness has prompted various institutions to proactively establish such programs, either independently or through collaborative partnerships.


  • Reading Area Community College (RAAC) in Reading, PA, is planning to build a $33 million state-of-the-art childcare center on its campus,which will provide early childhood education for more than 150 children. Many educational institutions operate similar early learning centers, which provide an education for the community, and serve as a training ground for educators. It’s a tried and tested model to advance early education.


  • The Catherine Hershey Schools for Early Learning is a nonprofit organization that will be launching 6 early learning centers to provide free high-quality education to children from low-income families. The project will cost $350 million.


  • In Indiana, the On My Way Pre-K program serves 14,000 preschoolers. Over 300,000 preschool-eligible children, however, remain unserved. Non-profit organizations like Early Learning Indiana have to step in to provide programs to cover the demand. Maureen Weber, CEO of Early Learning Indiana, says: “We know that access to high-quality early learning services is really foundational to children’s success.” 


  • Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is expanding its transitional kindergarten (TK) facilities, expecting a large increase in enrollment in the following two years. OUSD will be adding 5 new TK classes and adopting a TK curriculum for the first time. California will make TK universal by the 2025-2026 school year. Thus, many school districts are taking appropriate steps to welcome new students. 


  • To replace Evergreen Elementary School, Marion County Public Schools in Ocala, Florida, will reopen the building as Fordham Early Learning Academy. The goal for the academy is to boost early literacy. It will admit pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, and add Grade 1 and 2 in successive years. 


  • In its 2020 strategic plan, the Yakima School District (YSD) in Washington, wanted to increase kindergarten readiness for its preschool students from 20% to 95% by 2026. Recently, the school district was successfully able to consolidate many of the early learning services in the district. YSD Early Learning Principal, Jamie Johnson, says that “consolidating preschool services makes it easier for teachers to collaborate as they focus on their students’ burgeoning social and academic skills”. 


  • Harrisburg School District in South Dakota passed a $30 million bond to build a new elementary school. When the new yet-to-be named school will be completed, it will house the elementary grades, and the current elementary school will be converted into an early learning center, housing Pre-K, Head Start, Kindergarten and possibly Grade 1 programs. The project is set to finish in the fall of 2024. 


  • After undergoing a $27.7 million renovation, the Marygrove Elementary School opened in Detroit, welcoming K-2 students on campus. The opening of the school is a part of the P-20 partnership in the community, which opened an early learning institution last year, called the Marygrove Early Education Center. It plans to add grades 3, 4  and 5 in the next three years to become a full K-5 institution. 



Theme 2: Supporting Teachers With Specialist Positions.

Supporting Teachers With Specialist Positions

In a bid to help teachers provide the best possible educational experience for their students, many specialist positions in both literacy and numeracy are being hired in schools. Given that teachers have such busy schedules, it helps to have a larger literacy team that can work together for the benefit of every young student. 


  • Anderson Community Schools in Indiana is employing six literacy instructional coaches to collaborate with teachers to implement areas of emphasis from the Science of Reading. This hiring is being funded by the Indian Department of Education’s two-year grant to provide coaching to teachers in research-based instruction in reading, or science, technology, engineering and math subjects. 


  • Olentangy Schools in Ohio, has added a math specialist position at each of the district’s 16 elementary schools for the new school year. Dr. Jack Fette, the district’s chief academic officer, says that the new specialists will “support teachers in their instruction of math in the classroom and improve consistency in math curriculum and instruction throughout the district”.


  • Rainbow District School Board in Northern Ontario has approved its budget for 2022-2023. The $225.8 million budget is an increase from last year, and it allows the board to achieve the priorities in its Strategic Directions 2022-2027 plan. Student Success and Achievement, and Literacy and Numeracy are two priorities listed in the plan. Two new literacy coaches are being hired and additional funding has been allocated for assistive technology in special education.



Theme 3: Focusing On Evidence-based Literacy Improvement Initiatives for the Foundational Years

Focusing On Evidence-based Literacy Improvement Initiatives for the Foundational Years

The growing recognition of the critical early schooling years is driving schools to adopt evidence-based instruction focused on foundational reading skills, particularly phonics and phonological awareness, which previously did not receive adequate explicit instruction. Schools are now dedicating more time to teach and assess these skills, but  in a fun and engaging manner, ensuring that students remain enthusiastic about their reading journey.


  • Holly Prine is a Grade 1 teacher at Clear Fork Elementary School in Lockhart, Texas. She says how a year of virtual kindergarten is creating behavioral and social difficulties for students attending school for the first time in Grade 1. Students are not able to fully master foundational reading and writing skills, and Holly is spending extra time with students teaching these skills. 


  • Dr. Monifa McKnight, Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools, identified impacts on students’ academic performance that needed to be addressed post-pandemic. In particular, one of the realizations was that Grade 2 and Grade 3 students, whose learning was interrupted in their foundational school years of kindergarten and Grade 1, require literacy support. Among other things, she calls for a return to “equitable teaching and learning”.


  • Longview Schools in Washington is trying several research-based teaching strategies to help address the lower state testing scores. According to Brian Mitchell, principal of Mint Valley Elementary School, students are learning phonics and multiplication using more engaging techniques where they take the lead during classes. They are expected to actively participate in the lessons and ask questions.


  • The Grass Valley School District (GVSD) district and school site teams have discovered that their youngest students require more educational and behavioral help to succeed in school. The Preschool through Third Grade Coherence Collaboration has been introduced, which aims to better align the preschool services to the early grades. As a part of the program, the district has created new phonics reading assessments and daily phonics-focused instructional lessons.


  • In Massachusetts, Grade 1 teacher Lisa Hannifan found great success by focusing on phonemic awareness. She works on early literacy by picking those reading materials that use phonics patterns and represent her community of students. Additionally, she has her students sound out high-frequency words phonetically.



Theme 4: Comprehensive Summer Learning For All Student Situations

Comprehensive Summer Learning For All Student Situations

Summer learning programs have always been offered by schools, but now they are becoming essential to address the learning disruptions caused by the pandemic. These programs are utilized to provide instruction for students at risk of retention, offer one-on-one tutoring and group classes for targeted interventions, and even offer enrichment programs for students looking to prepare for the next grade.


  • Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is combining traditional classes with enrichment programs in its new summer program. IPS says that it has made huge academic gains in 2021-2022 and wants to continue that by not just repeating classes, but also offering more intense one-on-one instruction. It is also offering an online resource for after-school programming, where parents can stay updated on all extracurricular options and get access to enrichment programming at no cost. 


  • The District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) has approximately 5,000 K-4 students participating in its DSBN Summer HEAT program, to work on their literacy and numeracy skills. Leanne Smith, DSBN Superintendent of Secondary School Curriculum and Student Achievement, says that summer school has something for every student, whether it is learning recovery or preparing for the next grade. 


  • Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) says that 56% of Grade 2 students are at risk of being retained because of a new policy aimed at increasing literacy skills. Most of these students are attending classes this summer. The policy requires them to attend 90% of summer school in order to progress to Grade 3. Jaron Carson, Chief Academic Office of MSCS says that after-school tutoring was offered during the school year and now additional interventions are offered via summer learning.


  • The Waterloo Region District School Board will nearly double the number of students in its summer learning program this year, from 620 to almost 1,200. The focus will be on early literacy intervention for Grades K-2 and early numeracy intervention for Grades 3-5. The program includes opportunities for group learning and even individualized learning where necessary, as well as speech and language support.



Theme 5: Long-Term Strategic Initiatives for Lasting Impact

Long-Term Strategic Initiatives for Lasting Impact

At a time when reading proficiency rates are not up to par across North America, school districts are taking a proactive approach to improve early literacy by considering new learning approaches, expanding schools, and acquiring valuable literacy resources. They are formulating long-term strategic plans that consider fresh perspectives capable of significantly raising the bar for reading proficiency.


  • Hillsborough County school district in Florida is working on improving reading and math scores for grades 3, 4, and 5. The 2021-2022 school improvement plan aimed to address teacher vacancies, lack of learning intentions, lack of understanding learning outcomes, and the lack of grade-appropriate rigorous educational materials in the 14 lowest performing schools.


  • Boston Public Schools (BPS) has reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education, whereby BPS will receive $10 million in the next 3 years to address long-standing deficiencies in language instruction, among other things. It’s a systemic improvement plan that seeks to eliminate systemic barriers to educational opportunities.


  • Polly Smith, Kindergarten Teacher at Pilgrim Lutheran School (PLS) in Chicago, is in favor of a holistic approach to teaching in early childhood education. She says that at PLS, the teachers look out for basic literacy and numerical skills but recognize that all children progress differently. A whole-child approach meets each child where they are in terms of academic social-emotional development and focuses on the cognitive growth of each child by teaching important concepts.


  • Allentown School District in Columbus Ohio, has submitted their district comprehensive plan to the Department of Education. It states the goal to increase the percentage of Kindergarten and Grade 3 students reading at grade level by 21.2% and 30% respectively, by 2025. Furthermore, in the next three years, the district wants to increase its number of schools meeting the statewide average in English language growth and attainment from 50% to 80%.


  • The Warrensville Heights City School District and Cleveland Metro School Districts have been devoting additional resources, such as extra staff, and providing instructional time to students, to improve early literacy. Early literacy is one of the five performance measures in state school district report cards released by the Ohio Department of Education. The other four are achievement, progress, gap closing, and graduation.


Need More Ideas to Improve Early Literacy Education?

If these stories have been helpful in inspiring action for your school or confirming existing ideas, there’s more in store for you! 

Stay tuned for our next article, which will feature 5 more themes!

At Sprig Learning, we are committed to supporting teachers and school leaders in the realm of early education, with a special emphasis on early literacy. Through our articles, we aim to shed light on the current landscape of early literacy in Pre-K to Grade 3.

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