Reading well by third grade is a key benchmark for students. Research shows that students who aren’t proficient in reading by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. Third grade is the final year that students are learning to read, rather than reading to learn across different academic disciplines.
At the same time, studies also show that it's never too late to teach a struggling reader. Early literacy is just as important as ensuring that students are reading at grade level in middle school and high school.
Knowing that literacy supports should exist across all grade levels, building a district-wide literacy plan may seem like a tall task. System improvement will mean more than revamping literacy instruction or implementing a few new teaching strategies. It'll require a rich toolbox of strategies to build educator capacity, effectively use data, and deliver the right interventions at the right time for struggling readers.
We analyzed top district literacy plans to bring you this list of 18 effective strategies. We hope you'll use these ideas for inspiration as you build or evaluate your own literacy action plan.
*Bonus Content* Click here to unlock 30+ tips and strategies for improving literacy.
What Are Essential Literacy Strategies for School Districts?
1. Establish and communicate specific goals around literacy. [Tweet this]
Maybe your goal is to have a certain percentage of students reaching reading proficiency by grade three. Having clear goals makes the work meaningful for educators on the ground!
2. Develop or identify a reading curriculum that is aligned to rigorous and clearly defined standards. [Tweet this]
3. Don’t just set literacy goals and leave schools to execute on their own. [Tweet this]
Provide them with systems, tools, reading strategies, ongoing support, and check-in points. In other words, invest resources and time behind the literacy goals that you say are important.
4. Build cross-functional momentum and collective ownership around your goals through a District Literacy Leadership team. [Tweet this]
Too often, literacy work is siloed. A team of school and district leaders, teachers, and community partners can convene annually or bi-annually to reflect on progress and revise or adjust action steps as necessary.
5. Leverage literacy coaching across the district to ensure that all educators understand and can apply the components of literacy instruction to lesson plans. [Tweet this]
Literacy coaches can also be made available for individual teacher coaching, modeling of reading instruction, and collaboration.
6. Invest in professional development that builds educator capacity around the science of reading. [Tweet this]
Do all educators understand the fundamentals of how our brains learn to read—and how to apply these principles to literacy instruction?
7. Focus on social-emotional learning (SEL) and school climate to create a positive and safe environment where students feel ready to read and learn. [Tweet this]
SEL can also develop readers by teaching them critical thinking, learning strategies, and skills for collaborating with their peers around reading.
"We embedded SEL into everything we did around literacy. We had phrases that we’d use with students constantly around growth mindset. We also designated students as 'heroes' when they demonstrated SEL values and they would wear capes for the day."
– Emily Maciá, former Principal at Achievement First (New York) and Panorama Client Success Manager
8. Require universal screening for students in grades K-3 to support early identification of struggling readers. [Tweet this]
Universal screening for younger students can help educators catch and diagnose reading problems during the years that matter most.
9. Develop a shared language across schools by using common “statuses” for students receiving tiered reading supports. [Tweet this]
For example, your literacy statuses for readers might be “Behind,” “At Risk,” “Progressing,” and “On Track" within a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) or Response to Intervention (RTI) framework.
10. Ensure that schools are creating and nurturing a culture of literacy. [Tweet this]
Provide them with creative ideas for Tier 1, universal supports that all students receive across content areas. Examples include: sending weekly reading progress updates; visually tracking students’ reading levels in the classroom; hosting book fairs; having a book of the month; holding reading challenges.
11. Ensure that schools are making reading accessible and engaging to students from a diverse backgrounds. [Tweet this]
Are students exposed to content-area stories and texts about people who look like them and/or come from similar backgrounds as they do?
12. Establish a set of recommended, evidence-based Tier 2 and Tier 3 literacy interventions across schools. [Tweet this]
Tier 2 interventions could include small group pull-outs for targeted reading instruction. Tier 3 interventions (for students persistently at risk) could include intensive, individualized 90-minute daily sessions for teaching reading. Ensure that all staff are trained to implement interventions with fidelity.
13. Require data-driven, weekly progress monitoring for students who are at risk in reading and receiving intervention. [Tweet this]
These checkpoints are opportunities to measure growth towards the goal and whether or not interventions are meeting student needs.
14. Encourage schools to create cross-functional PLCs or Student Support Teams (SSTs) that meet monthly or on a regular basis to monitor student progress and collaborate on interventions. [Tweet this]
For example, Utah’s Ogden School District uses Child Assistance Teams (ChATs) in every school to mobilize around at-risk students and deliver Tier 2 supports.
15. Centralize literacy interventions and progress monitoring by using a MTSS software platform like Panorama Student Success. [Tweet this]
This can save time for staff and streamline data protocols so that educators can focus on supporting students instead of compiling data. It can also strengthen cross-team collaboration and accountability toward literacy goals.
"Third-grade literacy is a priority in the state of
Iowa and in our school. We're so thankful that Panorama was rolled out across the state, as we have seen incredible growth in our students hitting literacy benchmarks. Teachers are assigning interventions, tracking progress made, and using the data to determine next steps with students. We can easily see the effectiveness of interventions. It has been a game changer."
– Heather Fuger, Principal, Central Lee Elementary School (IA)
16. Provide schools with a list of ideas, reading strategies, and resources for equipping parents to support literacy improvement at home. [Tweet this]
For example: providing parents with materials to practice reading skills with their child; making YouTube videos to read aloud phonic sounds; sending home laminated bookmarks with question prompts for parents to use with their child.
17. Establish firm guidelines for schools regarding communication with parents and families about literacy intervention. [Tweet this]
What should the communications look like? What data should be included? How often should schools update families on the student’s progress?
18. Run family feedback surveys to better understand the confidence level of families when it comes to supporting reading at home. [Tweet this]
The data can help you identify where families may need more support. For example, after Wake County Public Schools (NC) collected survey feedback from families, one elementary school took action on the data by hosting a literacy-themed family teacher night.