School Literacy System Checklist

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal's " Right to Read" report (2022) on literacy practices in Ontario public schools provides a roadmap showing how to create effective literacy systems.  I used the report's recommendations to create the "School Literacy System Checklist."  The checklist is a simple tool to help educators determine if the qualities of effective literacy systems are present or needed in their school. 

There are 5 areas that we need to consider when creating an effective school literacy system:

1. Curriculum and instruction that use evidence-based practices

2. Early screening of all students

3.  Reading interventions that are early, evidence-based, intensive, and systematic

4. Accommodations (which are not used as a substitute for teaching students to read)

5. Professional assessments (which are timely and based on clear, transparent, written criteria that focus on the student’s response to intervention)

Curriculum and Instruction

Quality            Excerpt from the Right to Read Inquiry Report               Is it in place?

Systematic and Progressive

Teachers’ instruction in letter-sound relationships and how to use these to read words should be planned and sequential so that children have time to learn, practice and master them.

Access to evidence-based curriculum and programs

Teachers need to be provided with an evidence-based curriculum and programs that lay out the scope and sequence of phonics instruction best suited to developing readers, and instructional routines and lesson plans that can build confidence in their phonics teaching. This frees the teacher from scrambling to develop what and how they will teach each day, to focusing on teaching it well, and gauging students’ progress.

Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness

The National Reading Panel found that teaching two phonemic awareness skills (blending and segmentation) had stronger effects than teaching more and varied phonological awareness skills. Critically, incorporating letters as early as possible, when students have learned grapheme-phoneme associations, into instruction teaching children how to blend and segment phonemes, is more effective for increasing children’s phonemic awareness, decoding, and spelling skills.

Explicit instruction in phonics

High-quality, systematic phonics work means teaching beginner readers:

  • Grapheme/phoneme (letter/sound) correspondences (the alphabetic principle) in a clearly defined, incremental sequence

  • To apply the skill of blending phonemes in order as they sound out each grapheme

  • To segment words into their constituent phonemes to spell out the graphemes that represent those phonemes.[669]

Phonological awareness teaching begins in pre-kindergarten

It is taught through methods “such as singing and learning nursery rhymes, learning to recognize and produce rhyming words, and playing with the chunks of sound that make up words, like syllables and beginning sounds.”

Phonological awareness taught in kindergarten

The evidence is clear that instruction in phonological awareness, letter knowledge and sounds, and simple decoding should be included in daily instruction for all Kindergarten students.

 

Students need to develop the critical phonemic awareness skills of identifying phonemes in the beginning, end and middle of words, and then blending and segmenting individual phonemes in words

 

Kindergarten students should “be taught, using engaging and age-appropriate methods, letter names and letter-sound associations, and how to use these to read simple words.

 

instruction in phonemic awareness, sound-letter knowledge and phonics

Alphabetic knowledge taught kindergarten

Alphabetic knowledge: For children just starting formal schooling, teachers need to provide instruction and activities that help all students learn the letter names, sounds and shapes and to start printing. Teachers can help children have fun with building their alphabet knowledge.

Teaching 
vocabulary

Teach using explicit instruction, morphology, word families, and multisensory teaching methods

Teaching strategies for reading comprehension

“...teaching cognitive strategies [was found] to be an effective component of reading comprehension instruction.”

Teachers are trained in effective reading instruction practices

What good reading teachers need to know:

  1. Knowing the basics of reading psychology and reading development

  2. Understanding language structure for both word recognition and language comprehension

  3. Applying best practices concerning all components of reading instruction

  4. Using validated, reliable, efficient assessments to inform classroom teaching

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Ineffective Instructional Practices

Remove these if they are in your system.

3 Cueing System

Reading science does not support approaches that rely on teaching children to read words using discovery and inquiry-based learning such as cueing systems.

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Balanced Literacy

“…balanced literacy proposes that immersing students in spoken and written language will build foundational reading skills – but significant research has not shown this to be effective for learning to read words accurately and efficiently.”

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Levelled Books

"Decodable books are preferrable to levelled books because they allow new readers to develop their decoding skills rather than their guessing skills" (Audet).

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Early Screening

Quality            Excerpt from the Right to Read Inquiry Report               Is it in place?

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Evidence-based Screener

“These instruments have established reliability and validity standards to increase confidence in their effectiveness.”

 

The panel cited three specific screening tools and the corresponding studies that show they include measures that accurately predict future student performance. These tools are DIBELS,[888] Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP),[889] and the Texas Primary Reading Inventory.[890] The Rapid Naming Subtests of the CTOPP could also be included as these predict later word-reading accuracy and fluency difficulties.

Early – Screening in 2nd half of kindergarten

“Earlier interventions are more effective because students’ response to intervention declines as they become older.[876]

 

“Schools must screen every student early (starting in Kindergarten Year 1) using evidence-based screening tools.”

Kindergarten Screener assesses letter knowledge and phonemic awareness

“Kindergarten screening batteries should include measures assessing letter knowledge and phonemic awareness”

Screening in grade 1

Screening should take place at the start and middle of the year

“By the second semester of Grade 1, the decoding, word identification, and text reading should include speed as an outcome.”

Screening in grade 2 

Screening should take place at the start and middle of the year

“Screen students in Kindergarten through Grade 2”

Grade 2 screener assesses word reading and passage reading and is timed

All students are screened

Universal screening makes sure all students, regardless of their family background or being noticed by teachers, are systematically flagged when foundational word-reading skills are not developing as needed.

Those administering the screener are trained to do so

"School boards make sure staff (for example, teachers) administering the screening tools receive comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded professional learning on the specific screening tool or tools that they will be administering, and on how to interpret the results."

Screener results lead led quickly to a prove evidence-based intervention for those in need

Screening tools should be used to identify students at risk of failing to learn to read words adequately, and to get these children into immediate, effective evidence-based interventions.

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Ineffective Screening Practices

Remove these if they are in your system.

Wait-and-See Method

Waiting to see if a student has difficulty learning to read does not work.

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Running Records

There is no evidence to support the validity of running records or related approaches. Their psychometric properties are questionable, and they fail to identify many children at risk for word-reading failure. This assessment approach does not measure the skills students should be taught to learn to read. Beginning readers should not be using meaning, structural and visual cues to read words.

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Reading Interventions

Quality            Excerpt from the Right to Read Inquiry Report               Is it in place?

Early interventions are provided

Kindergarten to Grade 1

Later interventions are provided 

Grades 2–5; 6–8; 9 and above

Effective Instruction is happening in the regular classroom

A science-based curriculum builds solid foundational word-reading, fluency and spelling skills for all students. Curriculum that promotes a different approach results in too many students needing interventions and confusion for students receiving those interventions.

Small group instruction in Tier 2

Tier 2 should be completed with a small group of students, with sufficient time and intensity for an explicit, evidence-based foundational skills program/intervention

Student progress is monitored and used to inform programming decisions

School boards should collect valid and reliable data on students’ immediate and long-term outcomes, to inform their decisions about individual student programming and efforts to evaluate program effectiveness.

Educators are properly trained

Educators providing interventions need thorough and effective training in program delivery, with initial and ongoing coaching

Interventions are available to all students who require them

School boards should make sure every school has at least one evidence-based reading intervention that can be implemented with students in each grade level and for each tier, and interventions are available to all students who require them. Students should not have to change schools to receive evidence-based interventions.

All students are screened

Universal screening makes sure all students, regardless of their family background or being noticed by teachers, are systematically flagged when foundational word-reading skills are not developing as needed.

Those administering the screener are trained to do so

School boards make sure staff (for example, teachers) administering the screening tools receive comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded professional learning on the specific screening tool or tools that they will be administering, and on how to interpret the results.

Screener results lead led quickly to a prove evidence-based intervention for those in need

Screening tools should be used to identify students at risk of failing to learn to read words adequately, and to get these children into immediate, effective evidence-based interventions.

Use R.T.I. framework

School boards should provide small-group early and later interventions (tier 2) for students when evidence-based classroom instruction (tier 1) is not adequate for them to develop average-level foundational word-reading skills. School boards should provide more intensive and individualized interventions (tier 3) to students who do not respond adequately to tier 1 instruction and 2 interventions, based on progress monitoring with standardized measures of reading. At tier 3, a professional (psychoeducational or speech-language pathology) assessment could be used to fully assess the learning challenges, but should not be required or delay tier 3 intervention.

Mandate Accountability Measures

School boards should make sure clear standards are in place to communicate with students and parents about available interventions. If a student is receiving a reading intervention, the school should communicate details about the intervention such as information about the program, the timing, expected length of the intervention, results from progress monitoring and what steps the school will take if the student does not respond well to the intervention

Collaborative Teams

School boards should build collaborative teams from personnel with knowledge and experience in the science of reading. Interdisciplinary teams may bring together special education and elementary teachers, psychologists and SLPs who have advanced their knowledge and experience in this area. These teams can develop and provide comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded professional learning on the fundamental processes related to reading, early reading skills and the needs of learners with reading difficulties.

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