116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Community School District was one of the top three finalists for the first award for excellence for implementing the science of reading, which is credited with improved reading proficiency among students.
The award celebrates schools and districts for their excellence using the science of reading and Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, a professional learning program that provides K-5 educators with the knowledge to be literacy and language experts.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District was the second runner-up and received a $1,000 prize.
The grand prize winner was a school in Alabama, and the first runner-up was a public school district in Oklahoma.
Diane Blythe, a special education instruction facilitator, and Carla Riley, a professional learning facilitator, were integral in applying for the award.
The Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling is a graduate-level course on how the brain learns to read, Blythe said.
Eight special education instructional strategists in Cedar Rapids schools began training in the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling in 2013.
After an initial training, five Cedar Rapids staff members became certified trainers in the program and began training all elementary special education teachers in the district.
“Our data was showing we needed to provide intervention to too many students,” Riley said. “We realized it was a need for all elementary teachers who teach reading.”
Seeing the value of the program, a district leadership team developed a plan to offer the training to all teachers in the district’s 21 elementary schools beginning in 2018.
The district moved away from a moved away from a balanced literacy approach to now explicitly and systematically teaching phonics and other components of literacy, Blythe said, and pivoted to this Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, which relies more on phonics.
Since then, over 300 elementary teachers have completed some certification in the program. Teachers get a stipend or course credit for successful completion of the program.
The district is seeing improvement in student reading data.
In the 2018-2019 school year, 56 percent of students met reading proficiency bench marks in the fall compared with 65 percent in the spring, and in the 2019-2020 school year the district started at 60 percent reading proficiency in the fall, with 63 percent in the winter.
Spring assessments were not completed because of the pandemic.
During the 2020-21 school year, 51 percent of students met reading bench marks in the fall, a decrease because of learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the district has experienced a setback, Blythe and Riley think students can bounce back more quickly because of the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling.
“It’s going to be a game changer in helping us close those gaps that may have happened because of the pandemic,” Riley said.
Blythe, who began teaching virtually this year because of the pandemic, said her teaching “wouldn’t have been very effective” without this training.
“I know this learning has had a huge impact on my personal teaching and the way I think about education and instruction,” Blythe said.
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