Tuesday, June 27, 2023

29 NC School Districts Complete Rigorous Professional Learning Aligned to Statewide Improvements in Students’ Reading Scores Remaining districts to complete professional learning coursework by summer 2024

North Carolina’s youngest readers have continued to make strong gains in early literacy over the last year, improving in critical skills like letter naming, phonemic awareness, and decoding, according to data previously released from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
Jun 27, 2023

North Carolina’s youngest readers have continued to make strong gains in early literacy over the last year, improving in critical skills like letter naming, phonemic awareness, and decoding, according to data previously released from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The gains by North Carolina students were achieved during the second full year of a far-reaching statewide initiative, as laid out in legislation, called the Excellent Public Schools Act, which was enacted into law in spring 2021.

This legislation provides professional learning to elementary school teachers with extensive training in instruction based on the “science of reading,” a phonics-based approach with strong evidence of effectiveness. Statewide improvements in reading proficiency are an indication that the required two-year professional learning program—called Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS®) and recently completed by 29 school districts— has not only been embraced by school districts but is being effectively implemented in classrooms and positively impacting students.

In the fall of 2021, North Carolina’s 115 school districts were given the choice to join one of three “cohorts” with staggered start dates where all participating teachers would receive the same high-quality professional development and hands-on support. Within each cohort, districts embark on a two-year professional learning experience geared towards two tracts of students: either kindergarten through fifth grade students (K-5) or pre-kindergarten students (PreK). Participating educators include pre-kindergarten through fifth grade educators . In total, more than 44,000 North Carolina educators will have received professional development by the time the third cohort completes its work, slated for summer 2024.

Improving early literacy outcomes has been a core tenant for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt and has been highlighted in her four-year strategic plan called Operation Polaris. Superintendent Truitt commended the first cohort for their willingness to be trailblazers in the science of reading and help students gain the foundational literacy skills needed to master reading.

“As an educator and veteran high school English teacher, strengthening early literacy has been a priority since I stepped into the role of State Superintendent,” said Truitt. “Knowing the effects of the pandemic on student learning and reading proficiency, we had no doubt that LETRS professional development would be a key investment in both our teachers and students, and for the future of North Carolina. I want to congratulate the educators who are part of cohort one, as they have worked tirelessly to learn new skills and master old ones so they could sustainably change the trajectory and outcomes for thousands of students across our state.”

Cohort one includes nearly 10,000 kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5) educators, 870 pre-kindergarten (PreK) educators, and over 500 administrators, impacting over 437,000 elementary-aged students. The following districts participated in cohort one and are the first of three cohorts to complete this rigorous professional development:

  • North Central Region: Vance County Schools, Warren County Schools, Wilson County Schools
  • Northeast Region: Bertie County Schools, Northampton County Schools, Washington County Schools
  • Northwest Region: Catawba County Schools, Newton Conover City Schools, Wilkes County Schools, McDowell County Schools
  • Piedmont-Triad Region: Mount Airy City Schools, Stokes County Schools, Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools
  • Sandhills Region: Bladen County Schools, Clinton City Schools, Columbus County Schools, Hoke County Schools, Scotland County Schools, Whiteville City Schools
  • Southeast Region: Onslow County Schools, New Hanover County Schools
  • Southwest Region: Anson County Schools, Cabarrus County Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Union County Public Schools
  • Western Region: Clay County Schools, Haywood County Schools, Madison County Schools, Polk County Schools

Topics addressed in the LETRS® professional learning courses that North Carolina educators receive include speech sounds, phonics, word recognition, spelling, advanced decoding, oral language, vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing. A key component of the learning includes helping educators understand how to apply what they are learning by embedding these skills into everyday classroom instruction.

Annie Brinkley, a kindergarten teacher in New Hanover County Schools and completer of cohort one, shared how LETRS® gave her the confidence to teach reading.

"I spent two decades teaching students to read using picture walks, repetitive text, and sight word memorization, and every time it was time to test, I held my breath and hoped the child would pick an ‘easy book,’” said Brinkley. “With LETRS, my students started reading books naturally, because they had the foundational skills to help them decode. No longer did I have to select a leveled reader for them, because they were the ones going after the books at home and in my classroom library. There really was no stopping them!"

As a result of educators’ and administrators’ hard work in the cohorts, NC has already begun to see improvements in students’ literacy skills. Most recently, North Carolina’s statewide literacy benchmark results showed that more students were on track in each grade – kindergarten through third  – and were performing at or above previous benchmark scores. Data also shows that North Carolina students were outperforming students in other states or districts using the same assessment.

To learn more about how North Carolina students have improved as a result of the statewide literacy efforts, see below.

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