ODE committee visits Riverside to glean insights on literacy gains
A literacy training classroom at Riverside Local Schools featuring posters detailing some of the science behind reading, including the portions of the brain involved in the process and a “sound wall” picturing the parts of the mouth that are responsible for making letter sounds, provided the backdrop during the last three school years for all elementary staff to undergo extensive literacy training that has paid large dividends in terms of student success.
Tuesday in the same classroom, Ohio Department of Education representatives from the Committee on Teaching, Leading and Learning Committee along with State Support Region 6 members visited the district to glean insights into some of the training background and how the school was able to pull off significant gains on its recent state testing. Riverside was one of 11 school districts in Ohio to receive an A letter grade on the K-3 Literacy standard on the state report card, as previously detailed in the Examiner.
For this report card section from the 2018-19 school year, Riverside’s 94 percent grade in this component involved moving 47 out of 50 students from off-track to on-track with their reading scores. The previous school year, the building had 54.8 percent of their third-graders score proficient on the Ohio Third Grade reading test.
“This is really wonderful and exciting and I know there has been so much time put into this,” Ohio Department of Education District 1 representative Linda Haycock of Lima told the staff during the visit. “You had this vision and you made it happen.
“Reading is so vital to our everyday life. It is setting up your students up for success in any path they might choose.”
Superintendent Scott Mann told the visitors that the success for the district began with the district’s receipt three years ago of the ODE’s Early Literacy Grant, and as a result, Margo Shipp, regional early literacy specialist for State Support Region 6, has been working alongside district staff for the trainings and to implement the programs in the classroom.
“I am the luckiest superintendent in Ohio,” he told the committee during a roundtable discussion involving his staff and the ODE representatives from around the state, some who had traveled four hours to the school. “It is my job to get out of the way and give my staff the materials they need to succeed.
“We’ve had an absolute buy-in by staff for all our of new training and professional development. It was that coupled with new reading materials replacing curriculum from 1998. To borrow a term from our (reading support specialist) Margo Shipp, ‘It was the perfect storm.’”
When the grant program began, former Riverside kindergarten teacher Brenda Lowery was hired as the district’s new literacy coach, a position that she continues to this day.
“Before the program started, it was frustrating because the kids weren’t doing as well as we knew they could do,” Lowery said. “We had great teachers, but needed the materials and training to make these improvements…
“It was involved many hours for our staff being trained in the new programming. In the first year, I felt like I was back in college with all of the reading and studying. But look how it has paid off.”
The specific trainings utilized by Riverside included the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum and Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS), which provides educators with the background, depth of knowledge and tools to teach language and literacy skills. The programs looks at the science of how children learn to read.
All elementary classroom teachers, intervention specialists, paraprofessionals and Title I teachers were trained using these curriculums.
“Through the detailed training that all of the staff have had, we’re able to look at the data from each student and diagnose where their specific issues are,” Lowery said. “Since we’ve all had the same training, all of the staff is speaking the same language as well.”
Kindergarten teacher Mandy Cotterman said one unique aspect of the programming includes teaching children to work on their mouth placement for the formation of sounds.
“It’s neat that in the classroom I have those tools. I can tell the students, ‘Look at my mouth to learn how to form words,’” she said.
“I’ve had one mom tell me that using this program was the first time that her son was able to successful say his brother’s name.”
At the other spectrum of the students age range, sixth-grade English language arts teacher Jennifer Walls said she has also been pleased with the new curriculum.
“I was skeptical at first, but the interventions actually started to work with my sixth-graders. It is amazing.”
In addition to the high-quality training, Lowery and Shipp said the administrative support and teaching staff coming along board with the new literacy program meant all the difference in the students’ scores.
“Not many other schools who have received the Early Literacy Grant have seen this success, and I attribute Riverside’s success to the buy in that we’ve had from the teachers and the administration offering unwavering support,” Shipp said.
“The teachers feel confident in their training, and as a result, our kids feel confident as well. It has been the perfect storm, leading ultimately to the success of the students.”