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The Right to Read: Rebuilding Early Literacy Programs

The Right to Read: Rebuilding Early Literacy Programs

Education is a constitutional right, but several students felt it was not being fulfilled after falling behind on reading assessments. In 2017, this led to 10 young readers filing and winning a class action lawsuit against their state for failing to provide adequate literacy instruction.
Image: Letter from plaintiffs

The Problem

Teachers, especially in underserved and minority communities, require more resources and support. Often, they’re handed materials that don’t align with research or are provided evidence-based materials and not told how to use them. 

This gap resulted in students scoring in the <1 percentile on reading assessments for years with minimal intervention. Goldberg, founder of the Right to Read project, monitored the reading scores of a fifth grader named Clark, and found they improved with extra help. However, Clark’s teacher lacked the resources to offer the additional systematic instruction needed for Clark to read proficiently. 

The phonics program Clark’s teacher was given included “loose mini-lessons, practice with leveled books, and reading aloud,” which wasn’t enough to help Clark read comfortably. In contrast, Clark’s first grade teacher had incorporated explicit phonics instruction, one-on-one help, and practice with decodables. With extra practice and science-backed reading lessons, Clark's reading improved. Unfortunately, not all the teachers in his school had the resources to provide this. 

The Solution 

Stories like Clark’s are why the money from the lawsuit didn’t go to the plaintiffs. The 53 million dollar settlement went directly to the 75 lowest performing schools in the state to rework early reading education programs and professional development. Each of these schools developed a unique plan for improving literacy rates and reading assessment scores. 

These plans were generally structured in these steps: 

  1. Screen for struggling readers early
  2. Look at the data to learn where improvements need to be made
  3. Disaggregate the data so you can see what's working for each student
  4. Carry out a curriculum audit to find areas for improvement
  5. Come up with an action plan   
  6. Explain to others what you are doing and why 

The plans also focused on providing science-backed reading tools such as a phonics scope and sequence, explicit lesson plans, and teacher training on how to implement these lesson plans.

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