DCPS Readers Next Door program helps DC students become better readers

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DC Public Schools kicked off the new school year last week with reading curriculum resources aimed at improving literacy among the city’s youngest readers.

Called DCPS Readers Next Door, the program contains 120 books, mostly written and illustrated by district educators, and is an extension of years of efforts to combine literacy instruction with what experts say are best practices in children’s education How to Read .

Meanwhile, results from the district’s standardized College and Career Readiness Assessment Partnership Test, better known as PARCC, illustrate how much learning loss has occurred during the pandemic. This year, 36 percent of students in the traditional public school system passed the reading test, down 4 percentage points from the last test in 2019. Students in grades three through eight and high school took the online exam in the spring of 2019.

National data released this week paints an equally sobering picture in the rest of the country, showing young students’ reading and math scores falling to their lowest levels in decades.

Officials said the new series of books are “decodable texts” that emphasize phonological skills and will be used in kindergarten through second grade classrooms. These books marked a departure from “horizontal texts”, which were categorized by difficulty level and tended to focus on “whole language” – the philosophy that children learn to read best by being exposed to words rather than breaking them down like Become a personal voice as you do in speech.

DC math, reading test scores drop to lowest level in more than 5 years

“The data, research and science show that using horizontal text to teach students word recognition skills is ineffective,” said Shareen Cruz, director of the district’s Early Literacy Strategy. “It’s not about developing the automaticity and fluency of students to recognize and decode words, it’s really the ultimate goal of reading, a huge barrier to reading comprehension.”

Children need opportunities to practice phonics skills—emphasizing the relationship between sounds and letters—to become successful readers. Otherwise, says Alison Williams, associate director of content and curriculum, “a lot of guesswork happens. They’re looking at pictures, they’re thinking about what makes sense, rather than really focusing on the pronunciations, relationships and word parts of the letters.”

Williams said students in the district are generally considered to be able to read at the grade level until they reach fourth and fifth grades and then “fall behind” because the books they are reading no longer have pictures.

To prevent this, school systems have adopted more decodable text in recent years. Each book focuses on a specific phonetic pattern or word family. This year, every building will use this type of writing.

In addition to boosting literacy rates, the new books are designed to reflect children’s experiences reading them, officials said. The public school system worked with reading experts and outside consultants to write a series about 10 characters who live in the school district.

Dakota King, an 8-year-old student at CW Harris Elementary School in southeastern Washington, said she was a fan of the character Lex, who was shorter than her peers and had to confront classmates over a hurtful nickname. Dakota and her mother attended a reading last month, during which the school system’s principal, Lewis Ferebee, unveiled some new books.

The books follow characters including Kayden, Amanuel, Jenna, Jacob and Lex, each of whom attends the school district. In one title, the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl appeared, said Yolanda Henson, a visual arts teacher at McKinley Tech High School and an illustrator on the project. Students will also read about a pet store in Anacostia.

Celestina Lee, a first-grade teacher at Garrison Elementary, said: “What’s different about these texts is that they’re meaningful, they’re fun, they’re rooted in community and identity and things that resonate with children. “Write the series. She said she looked forward to seeing children discover in the book the places they’ve been or the food they’ve eaten. “That’s the secret to keeping kids happy and happy at school.”

Literacy scores show Washington, D.C.’s achievement gap is widening during pandemic

Efforts to increase literacy rates come amid a growing disparity in reading proficiency between students of color and their white peers. In 2018, approximately 23% of black students, 32% of Hispanic students and 83% of white students in DC’s traditional public schools passed the PARCC reading test. Through 2019, every group showed improvement, with Hispanic students showing the greatest improvement: Nearly 40 percent read at or above grade level. Eighty-eight percent of white children and 27 percent of black children met this standard.

Now, students of different races are back at 2018 levels, erasing years of progress.

However, there are also bright spots. The city’s youngest students have made progress, according to the results of a test called DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) administered to students in kindergarten through second grade. At the beginning of school year, 41% of the children tested met the early literacy standards. That figure rose 25 percentage points to 66 percent by the end of the year.

“From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, we saw some of the highest gains that DCPS has achieved in a year,” Ferebee said.

Officials say the figure is well below the grades achieved in the 2018-19 school year, when 71 percent of children met earlier benchmarks, but it shows kids are getting back on track.

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