Literacy decline prompts Spring, Klein ISDs to boost programs for young students

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Spring ISD is bolstering its efforts to promote literacy in elementary and middle schools in response to poor student performance on tests of essential reading and writing skills. This year it began to implement its Literacy Applied program to encourage young students to read.

Students in SISD have consistently scored below the state average on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness reading tests in grades 3-8 since 2013, according to Texas Education Agency statistics. The number of students who received passing scores on the examinations has also declined each year since 2013.

This is one of several factors that has prompted the district to place a greater emphasis on literacy, said Lauren Topek, chief of curriculum, instruction and assessment at SISD.

“We were looking at not only achievement scores and lack thereof,” Topek said. “We had multiple assessments we would look at—one would be the STAAR tests for grades 3-8 … We also had anecdotal grades that we [considered]as well as an assessment that tests comprehension.”

Strategies employed in the Literacy Applied program include placing literacy coaches and books in classrooms.

Topek said the coaches support independent reading, reading aloud and skills such as grammar and spelling.

“The ultimate goal for the coaches is to make sure we are reaching every single student,” Topek said.

The district has not budgeted a specific amount for Literacy Applied, but the program encourages department heads to consider literacy when developing budgets for resources and professional training, Topek said.

Harris County Department of Education, a governmental agency which provides resources to school districts, has integrated literacy into all of its professional development offerings, said Kelly Tumy, English Language Arts and Reading curriculum director at the HCDE Teaching and Learning Center.

“Our literacy support offerings have doubled since 2015, and these are more targeted to school districts’ needs,” Tumy said.

Tumy works with Bammel Middle School in SISD as a literacy coach during the 2017-2018 school year.

Among the challenges to literacy that educators face are mobile student populations, funding deficits and different levels of student readiness, Tumy said.

In SISD, student mobility—a measure of how many students move in and out of a district in a year—was 22.2 percent in 2014-15, compared to the state average of 16.5 percent.

Although KISD has consistently scored above the state average on English STAAR tests, KISD Chief Learning Officer Jenny McGown said  standardized assessments are not the final word on student literacy.

“A student may increase in literacy skills by more than a year without meeting standard on the state assessment,” McGown said.

Reading scores on STAAR tests have also declined slightly in KISD since 2013. However, McGown said the variation in students’ assessment scores is not statistically significant.

“While data may reveal a decline in the percentage of students at grade level, the number of students in Klein ISD scoring at the mastery level increased in grades 3-8,” she said.

KISD has increased literacy support for its prekindergarten students by seeking childhood grant funds to bolster its instructional materials for classrooms and professional development for teachers, McGown said.

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Vanessa Holt

A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of the paper in March 2017.

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