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A Literacy First tutor coaches a child

Literacy First Advances Reading Outcomes for Central Texas Students

COVID-19 Project Overview

Literacy First is working to ensure every child in Central Texas has the opportunity to become a successful reader before third grade, setting them on a path of excellence in school and in life. The program places tutors in low-income schools to deliver intensive, data-informed tutoring to advance K-2 students to grade level in reading.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Literary First is adapting and scaling its model to mitigate learning loss and continue advancing reading outcomes for students.

The pandemic has made long-standing disparities in access to a quality early education so much more visible. Our students have likely experienced more learning loss, and have a greater need for the additional support we provide.

Mary Ellen Isaacs, Ph.D., Director of Literacy First

How it Helps

The single best predictor of the likelihood of a student graduating from high school is their ability to read on grade level by third grade. But only 50 percent of Central Texas third grade students overall reached grade level expectations on the state reading assessment (STAAR), and for students living in poverty, only 30 percent reached this benchmark. That equates to more than 12,000 Central Texas students whose futures are likely compromised by low literacy achievement.

The vision of Literacy First is to close the early literacy achievement gap for all students in Central Texas. In a typical school year, tutors work one-to-one with every student for 20-30 minutes daily, using research-based curriculum to develop skills that predict reading success – phonological awareness, letter knowledge, phonics, and oral reading fluency. Each campus has at least one bilingual tutor.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, students need literacy support more than ever after six months of learning loss. Here’s how the program is working to adapt and scale its model to keep students on track.

Expanding Virtual Tutoring

With COVID-19, partner schools will likely require a hybrid of in-person and virtual tutoring. While there is uncertainty around how schools will operate this year, Literacy First is planning with campuses to be ready for different scenarios, and also working alongside districts to find solutions where students lack internet or computer access. Virtual tutoring is already underway at several schools throughout Central Texas.

Literacy First typically works with students in grades K-2, but for the first time this year, tutors will begin the year serving second and third grade students in Austin Independent School District. Students who were in second grade when schools closed in the spring will have a chance to complete their reading journeys with Literacy First, while younger students will have more time to acclimate to new technology before they begin participating in the program.

Recruiting and Nurturing Talent

Making a difference in the lives of children begins and ends with having the right people. Literacy First is the longest running AmeriCorps State programs in Texas, and recruitment and training continue to be a top priority as the program expands.

Experienced volunteers can access leadership and professional development opportunities including a second-year Leadership Academy and advisory roles focused on capacity-building. Additionally, through a partnership with the Region 13 Teacher Educator Program, Literacy First tutors can become certified teachers, putting them in high demand after their AmeriCorps service.

Training the Trainers

Tutors typically receive more than 50 hours of literacy training across the year, and Literacy First supervisors who are experts in reading are onsite weekly to observe lessons, monitor student progress, and make adjustments to meet individual student needs.

To effectively scale support during the pandemic, Literacy First is expanding a program delivery model which builds the capacity of teachers, schools, and districts to ensure students develop core competencies in reading during their first years in school.

Following a success pilot with Del Valle Independent School District where district paraprofessional tutors and Instructional Coaches receive training to implement the program, Literacy First will provide a series of trainings for all first-grade teachers on select campuses to teach them how to use interventions in small-group daily lessons. The program helps teachers understand how to set up their classrooms for tiered literacy instruction to address the needs of different students, while second and third grade teachers at these campuses are trained in how to implement reading fluency centers into their daily instruction.

By training teachers, paraprofessionals, and additional staff on campus, Literacy First is building a community of support around students to advance their reading to grade level. Ultimately, this model makes it possible for more students to be served, growing literacy competency not only in an individual school, but in the district and the community long-term.

By the Numbers: Advancing Reading Outcomes

Literacy First has been improving student outcomes in Central Texas for more than 25 years. Since 1994, the program has served 22,000 students, with a 75% success rate in reaching and sustaining grade-level reading skills.

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