Board of Education Meeting Update – October 5, 2017 Focus on Achievement

Continued Focus on, Investment in Early Literacy Critical to Student Achievement

At the October 5 Focus on Achievement session, the Board of Education received an update on the success of the district’s Denver Plan goal focused on Foundation for Success, and plans for continued progress. The goal is that by 2020, at least 80% of DPS third-graders will be at or above grade-level in reading and writing, which is critical because students who are reading and writing proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to graduate and go on to college.

Early Literacy Gains

To achieve this ambitious goal, the district’s Early Literacy Plan 2020 focuses on increasing the quality of early literacy teaching and learning through standards-aligned curriculum and instruction. This includes a focus on Spanish parity, monitoring progress monitoring using a body of evidence including READ Act assessments, and early literacy capacity-building through both foundational and targeted professional learning.

The district’s comprehensive early literacy strategy led to a 5.9% proficiency increase in third-grade CMAS results — up from a 0.8% proficiency increase in 2015-2016.

“The big bet we made in our Foundation for Success goal was that early literacy is a critical factor in our students’ success, and we’re seeing just how true that is,” said Board Secretary Happy Haynes, who serves as a co-chair with Board Member Barbara O’Brien for the Birth to Eight partnership — which, with the City of Denver and community partners, developed a roadmap to align community efforts around building literacy in children from birth to age eight. “The connection between the Birth to Eight Roadmap and the investment the district has made in early literacy …. is demonstrating that this big bet we made is the right direction.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg credited the board’s “forceful and consistent” leadership and prioritization of early literacy for creating alignment throughout the district that allowed for this year’s successes. Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova likened the focus to having a North Star to guide everyone.

In the Field

Associate Chief of Academics and Innovation Erin McMahon put board members to the test with a third-grade reading assignment and a sample SAT question — giving them context for the expectations we have of students, and sparking discussion about how we teach literacy.

The board also welcomed a panel of early literacy practitioners to discuss their experiences in the field. Ellis Elementary‘s 2016-17 Early Literacy Specialist Kristina Stevenson and 2017-18 Early Literacy Specialist Victoria Harp spoke about how the early literacy focus built capacity in their school to decrease the number of students who are significantly below their grade-level in reading from 25% to 5%, and close the opportunity gaps across all the student subgroups by almost half.

“At Ellis last year, our principal made the early literacy specialist part of the instructional leadership team so that the team really was aligned around the Denver Plan and prioritized this work,” Stevenson explained.

Harp added, “We prioritized this work so that it didn’t just live in a two-hour session but really came alive in the classrooms in our school. … We have systems in place to make sure we are monitoring our students and have the resources in place to make adjustments based on the data we are seeing.”

Network 1 Instructional Superintendent Tamara Acevedo said, “I’m proudest of our early literacy data with the gains we made in the northwest — we had the highest growth in our Read Act data with 22% gains in the elementary ed division.” She explained, “As a network, we were able to be very nimble because all our schools were entering data monthly, and our central support partner was able to cut the data so that schools could very quickly use the information and then mobilize the alignment of support across the district: the school, the literacy partners, principals, teachers — everyone, right away.”

Montclair Elementary Assistant Principal Emily Zabroski agreed, saying data helped her school improve on iStation from 49% to 73% in Tier 1 proficiency of their students. She said this improvement has enabled them to set their sights on making similar gains on CMAS going forward.

“I’m really proud of the growth gains the Near Northeast made in CMAS this year, leading the networks in terms of growth,” said Near Northeast Literacy Partner Sarah Tilton. “Across my schools, teachers and leaders are much better at looking at data after last year. The push this year is to figure out how to use the data-tracking systems in place to get them the information they need when they need it so they can act on it.”

Next Steps 

Key initiatives planned for the 2017-2018 school year include:

  • Providing differentiated summer professional learning for early literacy specialists based on student data needs at schools.
  • Providing foundational early literacy professional learning for new educators.
  • Supporting early literacy specialists and instructional leadership teams in implementing targeted early literacy professional learning and building early literacy capacity in schools.
  • Extending and refining implementation of core literacy curriculum, assessments and impactful instructional practices.
  • Selecting high-quality, CDE-approved intervention curriculum resources that include Spanish parity to implement in 2018-2019.
  • Strengthening Summer Academy for students on READ Plans through new resources and professional learning to support foundational skills.

All elements of the early literacy strategy are aligned and focused on increasing the quality of early literacy instruction and the achievement of all students in the district. Building early literacy capacity at all levels of the district from instructional superintendents and school leaders to elementary teachers and paraprofessionals resulted in significant gains in student achievement.

You can read the full presentation here.