Literacy is fundamental to student success, and according to Elena Hill, assistant superintendent of early learning, students who are reading at grade level by third grade are more likely to have better outcomes overall.
That is where Dallas ISD’s Reading Academies come into play. They provide intensive, research-based professional development on the science of teaching reading for kindergarten to third grade teachers and administrators with an overarching goal to transform literacy across the district.
While planning for the Reading Academies began before the COVID-19 pandemic to meet the legislative requirements of House Bill 3, the training programs are advancing learning recovery and acceleration across the district by enabling teachers and administrators to build capacity and fight literacy challenges at their root—challenges exacerbated by learning disruptions during the pandemic.
The initiative received an allocation from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to support this year’s costs. About $1.7 million was used for stipends for teachers who graduated from the program, with $300,000 going to personnel costs and $115,000 going to instructional materials. The overarching ESSER allocation will cover the 2021-2022 school year and the 2022-2023 school year. Other funds will be used to continue the academies after the ESSER grants end.
Last year, 1,162 teachers and administrators participated in the Reading Academies with a 99 percent completion rate. This year, about 1,345 teachers completed the 12 modules in time for their graduation in June, and next year, an estimated 1,600 teachers will undergo the process. The number increases in the third year because the Reading Academies need to include year-three schools as well as teachers who are new to the district or to the kindergarten through third grade level.
The training modules span a wide variety of topics from using data to inform instruction to decoding, encoding and word study. They also cover reading fluency and written composition with a focus on putting every lesson into practice.
“I remember as a teacher, we had a reading academy a long time ago when I was in the classroom, and it was the best training ever,” said Hill, who just completed the program. “It changed my life; it changed how I teach. This is exactly what we need for teachers to have a great understanding of the science of teaching reading.”
The Reading Academies were designed for in-person lessons, so Hill’s team had to get creative when the pandemic sent so many online. Their adaptability kept the program from falling behind, and now they are seeing early signs of success. Not only have teachers reported finding value in the training modules, but Hill’s team is also seeing student achievement gaps in the classroom begin to close.
By the end of 2023, Dallas ISD will have trained all current teachers and will continue to train teachers who are new to the district or new to the grade level moving forward in response to the requirements of House Bill 3.
“Reading academies are necessary,” Hill said. “Everyone is working as hard as they can right now, and when I think about why we’re doing this work, it’s so a child can smile, learn and grow—it just makes it all worth it for me.”
To learn more about the transformational power of Reading Academies in Dallas ISD, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/readingacademies.