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National study supports stronger elementary reading skills

Students in a classroom sitting on the floor reading words on a screen.First and 2nd graders across the district have finished the first semester of a six-semester study conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and we are thrilled to see positive growth in the strength of our students’ reading and literacy skills!

The study examines the efficacy of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support for Reading (MTSSR). This is the largest national research study of its kind and aims to strengthen reading and literacy skills for elementary students. The study uses longer instruction periods, enhanced Professional Development for teachers, and lessons with coaches to determine the most successful approach to giving young learners the opportunities they need to be strong readers.

Strength in literacy and reading skills is a top priority for NTPS, and participation in this study directly supports that goal. Our 13 elementary schools are divided into three “arms” of the study. Five schools are “business as usual,” and serve as the control for the study. Four schools are “Core Partner” schools, and four schools are “Enhanced Core Reading Instruction” or “ECRI” schools.

“We want every 3rd grader in our district to start their school year as a confident, independent reader,” says Sarah Rich, the district’s executive director of student achievement. “Our post-COVID literacy skills are dramatically lower, but we’re already seeing positive trends in classrooms with extra coaching.”

The Core Partner and ECRI schools have 90 minutes of reading instruction rather than the standard 60-minute instructional period. Teachers in Core Partner and ECRI schools both participated in specialized Professional Development prior to the start of the school year to prepare. Additionally, two district coaches are present in the classroom one day per week. Intervention teams offer 30 minutes of additional instruction to the whole class and/or additional specialized instruction to students who fall into the bottom 20% of literacy in their grade.

“The interventions themselves are not experimental,” explains Ms. Rich. “The study is not asking, ‘Do these interventions work?’. The study is asking, ‘To what degree can you implement a multi-tiered system with coaching supported by professional development?’.” These instructional systems seek to strengthen the literacy skills of every 1st and 2nd grader by offering more tailored learning opportunities in and around the classroom, and NTPS is helping to determine which model works most effectively.

The district’s coaches already report stronger word decoding, spelling and reading comprehension skills among students after just one semester in the study. NTPS evaluates students for literacy skills three times per year. The next evaluation will happen at the end of January, so stay tuned for results.

The AIR study will end in June 2024, at which point the district will evaluate the outcomes of the study as well as the cost and make decisions about permanently implementing one of the systems.