Topics: English Curriculum Professional Development Implementation Success Data Stories

Transition to Science of Reading-Aligned Instructional Materials and Professional Learning Yields Impressive Gains

Jenny Taylor

by Jenny Taylor

April 11, 2024
Transition to Science of Reading-Aligned Instructional Materials and Professional Learning Yields Impressive Gains

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Posted in: Aha! Blog > Wit & Wisdom Blog > English Curriculum Professional Development Implementation Success Data Stories > Transition to Science of Reading-Aligned Instructional Materials and Professional Learning Yields Impressive Gains

In school year 2022–2023, Elmhurst Community School Unit District 205 in Illinois began implementing new instructional materials aligned to the science of reading after building strong consensus on the opportunity for change. Now the district is thrilled to be celebrating significant gains in student achievement following their first year of implementation of Wit & Wisdom®, Geodes®, and Fundations from Wilson Language Training.

District Profile

  • 8,292 students
  • 8 elementary schools
  • 68.1% White, 18.7% Hispanic,
    6.8% Asian, 1.6% Black

Using Scarborough’s Reading Rope to Reflect on Current Practice

With the arrival of a new superintendent, Dr. Keisha Campbell, to the district, the opportunity arose to reflect on current English language arts (ELA) instructional practices and materials. Executive Director of Elementary Education Katie Lyons led this work in school year 2021–2022 and shares that the district used Scarborough’s Reading Rope to evaluate practices and materials with the goal of ensuring the district was attending to all standards of the rope throughout students’ K–12 experience. There were three key components to their analysis.

Teacher Survey Results

  • 75% of teachers reported they create their own materials for ELA instruction.
  • 54% of teachers reported seeking third-party resources for reading materials, 60% for foundational skills, and 52% for writing.
  • 71% of teachers reported spending three or more hours per week planning for instruction for reading, 30% for writing, and 27% for foundational skills and/or language instruction.
  • 86% of teachers reported they create their own ELA assessments.
  • Classroom Observations. The district’s Learning and Teaching team observed classrooms alongside principals across grades K–12 to understand students’ complete ELA experience in the district. They used Student Achievement Partner’s Instructional Practice Guide and instructional minutes recommendations to assess complexity of tasks and texts as well as understand how instructional minutes were being spent. From these observations, district leaders and principals recognized that instruction was overemphasizing certain components of language comprehension and under emphasizing certain components of word recognition.

  • Instructional Materials Analysis. After spending time observing classroom practice, Lyons began an analysis of instructional materials in use across the district. Two major findings emerged: There were too many different instructional materials in use, and the materials being used lacked coherence within and across grade levels.

  • Teacher Engagement. After completing the instructional materials analysis, the district surveyed teachers to better understand their current experience and instructional needs. Survey results revealed that teachers saw gaps in their instructional materials; wanted cohesive, aligned, and research-backed materials; and were working hard to fill instructional gaps for their students.

A clear story was emerging in the district: Instructional shifts in ELA were not at the forefront of how the district was providing instruction to students, and incoherent materials were serving as a barrier. “Texts were not the center. Integrated reading and writing experiences were not at the core of our instruction. It was disconnected instruction in terms of kids writing from what they knew or a seed idea rather than writing from how we were building knowledge within the reading block,” recalls Lyons. Having successfully identified the gaps in current materials and practices across the district, district leaders took their findings to the Literacy Steering Committee to discuss next steps.

Literacy Steering Committee Develops Shared Definition of Literacy and Guides Selection of New Instructional Materials

Recognizing a clear need across the district to improve instructional coherence, the district convened a Literacy Steering Committee to guide the district into the next phase of their literacy journey. Every school in the district had representation on the Steering Committee, including each school’s leadership team and instructional coach. Prior to reviewing new instructional materials, the Steering Committee engaged in deeper exploration of literacy and professional learning research as well as data analysis of current student learning outcomes to help inform their decision-making process.

  • Science of Reading Research. The district engaged in conversations at every level—from the board of education to school leadership teams, instructional coaches, and teachers—about the science of reading and what research identifies as common barriers that impede students’ reading comprehension, including lack of content knowledge.

  • Curriculum-Embedded Professional Learning. The Steering Committee also investigated the current body of research around high-quality, research-based, curriculum-centered professional development. From this research, the Steering Committee recognized how educative curricular materials can support educators and that curriculum in partnership with aligned professional learning opportunities is critical for implementation success. Lyons shares that the district sought to “honor teacher expertise and insight and help build their knowledge. Professional learning commitments have been at the forefront to really empower teachers to make meaning from the materials.”

  • Assessment Analysis. The Steering Committee reviewed the state ELA test to understand current student outcomes and to explore the content of the assessment to gauge the complexity and knowledge requirements of the passages on the test. This analysis along with the classroom observations showed a clear opportunity to improve students’ writing experiences and provide more integrated reading and writing opportunities. The analysis of state assessment data also highlighted that students’ proficiency and growth on the state ELA test had largely plateaued.

Once the Steering Committee completed its research efforts and data analysis, they developed a shared definition of literacy for the district and a commitment to help drive what they were looking for in instructional materials. With this consensus around a common definition and shared commitments grounding their work, the Steering Committee was able to begin exploring new instructional materials options. To guide their instructional materials review process, the district used a combination of resources and considerations, including

“What we heard from our community and from our staff is that they want our students to think critically, to affirm diverse perspectives, and to demonstrate empathy. So when we were looking at materials, we were looking for materials that encouraged students to do that.”

—Katie Lyons, executive director of elementary education

  • a rubric adapted from IMET,
  • EdReports,
  • the fit of the materials with the district’s strategic plan,
  • the fit of the materials with the community’s belief in what the student experience in Elmhurst should include, and
  • the extent to which instructional materials providers would also be professional learning partners.

The Steering Committee also provided teachers updates on the committee’s progress and opportunities to provide feedback on the prospective instructional materials. When the options had been narrowed to the final materials, the district surveyed teachers about which instructional materials they preferred. The district selected the materials that the teachers also wanted: Fundations, Wit & Wisdom, and Geodes.

Implementation of Science of Reading-Aligned Instructional Materials Has Positive Impact on Student Learning

With instructional materials selected and a robust plan for professional learning support in place, the district was prepared to begin their implementation journey in the spring of 2022. The district wanted educators to have sufficient time and resources to acquaint themselves with the materials, build their knowledge of the materials, and hone their practice before full implementation began in school year 2022–2023.

All educators in grades K–5 received the Wit & Wisdom Launch professional development, and district and school leaders and instructional coaches received Wit & Wisdom Lead professional development. To further support teachers in implementation over the summer, the district bought all teachers the core texts for the first module of Wit & Wisdom to take home and gave them access to the instructional materials online.

Elmhurst’s Professional Learning Opportunities

Teacher Learning Communities were organized by grade band (K–2 and 3–5) and included teachers from each elementary school, instructional coaches, and special educators. They met three times per year for a full day. These meetings provided an opportunity to engage in intentional professional learning around the ELA instructional shifts and share challenges to identify solutions together.

Literacy Learning Collaboratives for district leaders, school leaders, and coaches were used to deepen knowledge about the science of reading, instructional shifts, and using reading and writing integrated resources.

Professional Learning Communities met weekly for grade-specific planning and preparation, internalizing, and arc planning in year one.

As year one began, the district was well organized to support educators and leaders through a robust implementation of the new instructional materials, providing multiple ongoing opportunities for professional learning (see sidebar). Coaches received training over the summer on the module internalization process so they could lead teachers in PLCs during year one to discuss “what am I teaching?” and “what are students learning?”

In addition to learning opportunities at the role level, the district also identified half of the elementary schools as demonstration sites for Wit & Wisdom and the other half as demonstration sites for Fundations. While each school was implementing all instructional materials, the two cohorts embarked on different year three professional learning trajectories (see chart).

  Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
Wit & Wisdom Demonstration Schools Wit & Wisdom Guided Observation for Leaders Wit & Wisdom Coaching for Urgency and Productive Struggle

Fundations Coaching

Fundations Demonstrations Schools Fundations Coaching

Wit & Wisdom Guided Observation for Leaders

Wit & Wisdom Coaching for Urgency and Productive Struggle

The intense focus on sustained professional learning in year one supported teachers in strong implementation but also provided them a place to share challenges and address those with peers as they worked toward solutions. For Lyons, those teacher learning communities were an opportunity to address challenges head-on: “We honor those implementation challenges, and then we talk about what’s next.”

The investment in new resources and robust professional learning for teachers was evident in student learning outcomes by the end of the first year of implementation. The district’s ELA state test data highlights the successes the district experienced this year as the educators worked hard to implement the curriculum. In school year 2022–2023, the district saw an eight-percentage point increase in the percent of all students meeting or exceeding expectations on the state ELA test. Students exceeded their projected achievement by 10 percentage points in ELA and saw higher than expected growth on the district’s growth model.

Percentage of All Students Scoring Level 4 or 5 on State ELA Tests

Percentage of All Students Scoring Level 4 or 5 on State ELA TestsLyons notes that all students experienced growth, including those performing at the highest levels already on the state assessment, an outcome Lyons attributes to the focus on writing in Wit & Wisdom. She notes, “Teachers and principals are reflecting that it really has to do with the rigorous writing that is embedded in Wit & Wisdom. Teachers have reflected that even the writing in the FTQs [Focus Task Questions] leading up to the end-of-module task is more complex writing than they’ve ever asked their students to do and students are producing at a high level of writing because they have deep knowledge of a topic.” In addition to strong writing skills, teachers are reporting that kids are synthesizing across texts, even at the earliest grades, a trend they attribute to the elevated students writing experiences that occur regularly throughout Wit & Wisdom.

Elementary School Highlight on Proficiency

(Source: data provided by Elmhurst CUSD 205)

Additionally, in survey feedback, one educator shared that “students are building knowledge about rich texts and growing vocabulary faster than in the past. Students can’t stop talking about the topics at school and at home, and they are excited to showcase their learning.” Another educator shared that “Teachers are impressed with students’ writing about their reading, and students are excited to showcase their knowledge through discussion and writing.”

Reflecting on the year one results, Lyons shared, “We’re really excited that we aren’t talking about an implementation dip. We know there are variables, but we’re showing that we’re on a trajectory to change outcomes for students, and that’s what we set out to do. This is really affirming in where we’re headed.”

Tonya Daniels, executive director of communications and community relations, adds “This data incorporates learning loss from Covid. Not only did we come back from pre-Covid numbers, we surpassed pre-Covid. We implemented a new program, didn’t experience an implementation dip, and, in fact, actually skyrocketed past pre-Covid numbers.” The year one data were energizing for the whole district. Lyons shares that teachers are very happy with the year one outcomes, and the district is eager to celebrate the work and successes of teachers.

Looking Ahead

Now in year two of implementation, the district is continuing to support educators with professional learning and shifting focus to analyzing student work and writing. Through student work analysis, the district hopes to both better understand how teachers are implementing the instructional shifts and instructional materials and to see how that instruction is translating to student learning.

As Elmhurst continues their implementation, Lyons knows that high-quality professional development remains a key component to the district’s continued success and ability to continue to grow their own instructional leaders. She shares, “We know the research that says instructional materials matter, and how teachers use those instructional materials matter even more so. Choosing the right materials can have a huge impact. We’re pairing high-quality materials with developing really high-quality teachers. Without Wit & Wisdom in the equation, we wouldn’t be seeing these gains.”

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Topics: English Curriculum Professional Development Implementation Success Data Stories