Early detection of literacy, a “starting point” for educators

“Using these screens helps us understand what children aren’t able to decode, and decoding is the most important part of reading,” said Smith, a specialist teacher at the Rafael Hernández school, who organizes screenings in English and Spanish. “So if we can make sure all kids have the building blocks they need to be good readers, then we’re helping them grow into functioning adults in society.”

A new state policy aims to identify the additional support students need to succeed in reading and writing. Starting next July, all school districts in Massachusetts to have to assess a student’s progress in literacy twice a year from kindergarten to at least grade three in an attempt to catch learning disabilities at an earlier age. The mandate is not expected to interfere with immediate assessments for dyslexia or other learning disabilities, but may help detect any difficulties earlier.

Educators use these filters to modify and individualize lessons for students.

“These reviewers are just giving us a starting point,” said Sandy Lopez, a third-grade teacher at the school.

Early literacy interventions and support will be essential as the nation faces massive learning losses among students: More students this year have failed to meet state reading and writing requirements on MCAS state exams, and national reading scores fell on National Education Progress Assessment testing due to pandemic-related learning disruptions.

“The first year we have MCAS results, indicating that a child may have reading difficulties, is the third year, but we don’t have to wait that long to find out,” said Katherine Tarca, director of Literacy and Humanities for the Department of Primary and Secondary Education. “A school can use a screening assessment and know years earlier, as early as kindergarten, that a child is struggling with reading or showing signs that they might struggle in the future, and intervention can be occur throughout these kindergarten, first-, and sophomore years.

The mandate could also help districts avoid a so-called wait-to-fail situation, in which a school may not recognize that a child is struggling to read until they are in third or fourth grade. , resulting in a failure to meet grade level expectations on state exams or school level reading skills, Tarca said. Such an approach can be devastating to students’ academic progress.

“It’s going to be that much more difficult, if not impossible, to bring the child to the level of academic achievement that he was capable of, that he would have achieved if the intervention had taken place earlier,” Tarca said.

Early intervention would have made a huge difference for Leiya, 15, says his mother, Fabienne Eliacin. Leiya had trouble remembering sounds, letters and colors as a young child. She was screened in pre-kindergarten, but as the youngest student in her class, Gardner Flight Academy educators decided to wait and monitor his progress before providing learning aids, Eliacin said.

She was held back in first grade, and Eliacin placed his daughter in various schools and hired a private reading tutor to help her. Leiya finally got some extra reading support in fifth grade, but Eliacin laments the wasted years in which his daughter could have gotten the help she needed.

“This [wasn’t] until she was in middle school, her teacher was really working with her one-on-one,” she said. “She’s a smart kid. She reads, she still has a hard time, but she has this confidence that she didn’t have, and she’s not the only one. I know so many other kids who are going through the same thing.

The state’s adoption of the new policy aims to rectify this. About 300 public school districts were using state-approved screening tools to help detect learning disabilities, but others use deprecated methods or not proper tools at all.

Early literacy screenings will now fall under state special education regulations, resulting in greater compliance monitoring.

Some district leaders, however, have expressed concerns about whether they will receive training from the state, how they will practice the new screenings and how much new programs could cost, according to Tom Scott, executive director of the State Association of School Superintendents.

Maddie Smith, a special needs teacher at Rafael Hernández Dual Language K-8 School in Roxbury, said using filters helps educators “understand what kids aren’t able to decode, and decoding is the part the most important part of reading”.Carlin Stiehl for the Boston Globe

While many districts are paying for costs out of pocket or dipping into federal relief funds, the state has awarded approximately $471,955 in grants to 27 school districts over the past 18 months to support school procurement and training. early literacy screening assessment. It plans to offer a similar grant in the current school year, but the state does not yet know how much the grants will total.

Boston Public Schools chief of schools and accountability Drew Echelson said he wants to see the state not only act on the projections, but provide more guidance to districts on specific interventions that “to support the reduction of reading gaps across the Commonwealth.”

BPS, for example, selects students three times from kindergarten to second grade and provides Customs intervention.

To Dedham Public Schools, educators use one of the state-approved filters, EarlyBird, which provides an assessment of students’ reading levels and gives educators individualized literacy exercises to help students improve in certain areas.

“If we teach children letter sounds and they can’t discriminate aurally, we need to fix that before we start giving them letters, and make sure the interventions we use are married to good language. oral, and connected text,” said Sara Stetson, assistant superintendent of student services at Dedham. “It really takes a partnership between general education and special education to do it right.”

Adria Watson can be contacted at adria.watson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @adriarwatson.

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