Coaching Young Students in Reading

Coaching Young Students in Reading

When schools closed this spring because of COVID-19, Read Charlotte pivoted quickly to help parents strengthen their children’s literacy skills from home. The Reading Checkup, a website designed for families with rising K-4 students, debuted in June.

“This is a result of work we had previously done,” says Munro Richardson, Read Charlotte’s executive director. “We were patient, and then we were ready.”

The Reading Checkup uses a free online Home Literacy Coach that was originally designed for teachers as Assessment to Instruction (A2i). The revamped version includes scientifically verified tests and tools that have been repurposed and refined for parents and children to use together.

Five years and 2,000 hours of classroom observations led to the development of the patented A2i system. Seven randomized controlled trials demonstrated the system’s effective role in getting virtually all students to read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. Using evidence-based algorithms, the system links language and literacy assessments to recommendations for reading instruction.

Richardson had learned three years ago of the intensive approach to improve classroom instruction that was emerging from rigorous research and development by Carol Connor, a professor of education at UC-Irvine.

“It had some of the most solid results I had seen, but it was only research at that point,” Richardson says.

He followed with interest from afar for the next several years as the research grew alongside its funding, which included grant money from the U.S. Department of Education. In January, Richardson met Connor at a conference in California and discussed her work. He is grateful for that opportunity. Ill with cancer, she died a few months afterward.

“I came back more convinced than ever about the value of this approach,” he says.

By then, Connor and her husband, Jay, had founded Learning Ovations, a company that was bringing the research into classrooms in real time, moving with proven success toward the goal of getting students to read at grade level by third grade.

When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools across the nation, the U.S. Department of Education encouraged Learning Ovations to ramp up its work transforming the teacher-centric A2i platform into the parent-centric Home Literacy Coach. Richardson and Read Charlotte were primed to help lead the charge.

Established in 2015, and led by Richardson since its beginning, Read Charlotte unites parents, educators and community partners to improve children’s literacy from birth through third grade. As a community initiative, it coordinates and aligns the work of many organizations. The Duke Endowment is one of its funders and holds a seat on the governing board.  

To launch The Reading Checkup, Read Charlotte staff members – including four positions loaned from the Augustine Literacy Project and the Helps Education Fund – sprang into action to secure the domain name, build the site and work with 80 local partners to curate 350 home-based literacy activities tailored to local schoolkids.

Many enthusiastic supporters also helped get the word out. The Charlotte Hornets mascot did a PSA for social media and Hornets players contributed autographed publicity items. Press coverage complemented billboards across town, with a special focus in target ZIP codes where the program could potentially do the most good. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is promoting The Reading Checkup from within schools and created 1,500 videos to explain to adults how to do Reading Checkup activities with their children.

The Reading Checkup works, says Charlotte parent Todd Hetrick. As dad to Anna, 7, and Mallory, 9, he most appreciates knowing specifically where they are in their reading skills.

“I wish this had been available all the time they’ve been in school,” he says. “This is one of the pieces that gives me a lot more understanding.”

The program provides a handhold for the future, too. “The way things are,” Hetrick says, “I don’t think anybody has confidence as to what the learning experience will be.”

The Reading Checkup’s first five weeks of metrics show a success beyond two of Read Charlotte’s most successful initiatives to date, Home Reading Helper, introduced in fall 2018, and Ready4K text messages, introduced in spring 2017.

From the official June 8 launch of The Reading Checkup campaign through July 27:

  • 2,514 accounts were created in Mecklenburg County. Of these, 1,284 (51 percent) were by users in Read Charlotte’s 11 priority ZIP codes.
  • 1,702 quizzes were taken in Mecklenburg County. Of these, 849 (50 percent) were taken by users in the 11 priority ZIP codes.
  • Approximately 40 percent of overall traffic came from outside Mecklenburg County, with signs of sustained growth of that ratio.

Says Richardson: “This has opened our eyes to possibilities we would not have imagined.”

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