DCPS Readers Next Door Program Helps DC Students Become Better Readers



DC Public Schools kicked off a new school year last week, and with it a reading curriculum resource designed to improve literacy for the city’s youngest readers.

The program — called DCPS Readers Next Door — includes a collection of 120 books largely written and illustrated by district educators, and is an extension of a years-long effort to align literacy instruction with what experts say are the best practices for teaching children. how to read.

It also comes as results from the district’s Standardized Partnership Test for Assessing College and Career Readiness – widely known as PARCC – illustrate the extent of the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. Thirty-six percent of students in the traditional public school system passed the reading test this year, down four percentage points from the last time the test was administered, in 2019. Students in the Third through eighth and high school took the online exam in the spring.

National data released this week painted an equally grim picture for the rest of the country, showing young students’ reading and math scores dropping to the lowest levels in decades.

The new series of books are “decodable texts,” which emphasize phonics skills, officials said, and will be used in kindergarten through second grade. The books mark a break from ‘leveled texts’, books that are categorized by level of difficulty and tend to focus on ‘whole language’ – a philosophy that says children learn to read best by being exposed to words. and not by breaking them down. into individual sounds as is done in phonetics.

DC math, reading test scores fall to lowest levels in more than 5 years

“What the data has revealed, what research and science have revealed, is that teaching students word recognition skills using leveled text is ineffective,” said Shareen Cruz, chief strategy officer. district early literacy program. “It’s not about developing students’ automaticity and fluency with word recognition and decoding, which is really a huge impediment to the ultimate goal of reading, which is reading comprehension. “

Children need opportunities to practice phonics skills — which emphasize the relationship between sounds and letters — to be successful readers. Otherwise, said Alison Williams, deputy chief content and program officer, “there’s a lot of guesswork going on. They look at pictures, they think about what would make sense instead of really paying attention to letter sounds, relationships, and parts of words.

District students would often be considered able to read at the grade level until they reached fourth and fifth grade, and then would “fall backwards” because the books they read no longer had a footage, Williams said.

The school system, in an effort to prevent this, has adopted more decodable texts in recent years. Each book focuses on a specific phonetic pattern or word family. This year, every building will use this type of text.

In addition to improving literacy, the new books were designed to reflect the experiences of the children who read them, officials said. The public school system has teamed up with reading experts and outside consultants to write a series that follows 10 characters living in the district.

Dakota King, 8, a student at CW Harris Elementary School in southeast Washington, said she’s a fan of the character, Lex, who is shorter than his peers and has to confront his classmates about a hurtful nickname. Dakota and her mother were present at a reading last month, where Lewis Ferebee, the chancellor of the school system, debuted some of the new books.

The books follow characters such as Kayden, Amanuel, Jenna, Jacob, and Lex, who each attend a school in the district. In one title, the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl makes an appearance, said Yolanda Henson, a visual arts teacher at McKinley Technology High School and the project’s illustrator. Students will also read about a pet store in Anacostia.

“What sets these texts apart…is that they’re meaningful, they’re interesting, they’re rooted in community and identity and things that resonate with kids,” said Celestina Lee, a first-grade teacher at Garrison Elementary School who helped write the series. She said she can’t wait to watch the kids spot the places they’ve visited or the foods they’ve eaten in the books. “It’s the secret sauce of what makes kids happy and joyful at school.”

Literacy scores show growing achievement gap in DC during pandemic

The push to improve literacy comes amid growing gaps in reading proficiency between students of color and their white peers. In 2018, approximately 23% of black students, 32% of Hispanic students, and 83% of white students in DC’s mainstream public schools passed the PARCC reading exam. By 2019, every group had shown improvement, with Hispanic students making the biggest gains: nearly 40% were reading at grade level or above. Eighty-eight percent of white children and 27 percent of black children met this threshold.

Now students of all racial groups are back to 2018 levels, erasing years of progress.

But, there are bright spots. The city’s youngest students have already made improvements, based on the results of a test given to students in kindergarten to grade two called DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). At the start of last school year, 41% of the children tested met the criteria for early literacy. This figure jumped 25 percentage points to 66% by the end of the year.

“We’ve seen some of the highest gains DCPS has made in a year, year-to-date,” Ferebee said.

This is a number well below what was achieved in the 2018-2019 school year, when 71% of children reached the first benchmarks, but a sign that children are getting back on track, officials said.


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