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Research-based best practices for implementing a Tier 1 phonics program

Fairfax School District is located in a small community on the southeast side of Bakersfield, in Kern County, California. The district currently has four schools (they’re adding a fifth) with a total of 2688 students. Here they share best practices in implementing the science of reading.

Student in class working

California school administrator David Mack, EdD, shares 12 strategies for literacy change

Recently we spoke with David Mack, EdD, Chief Administrator of Business Services. David has worn many hats in his time in the Fairfax School District—from math teacher to school principal. He did his dissertation on the topic Improving Fidelity of Implementation of a Tier I Phonics Program: An Improvement Science Study.* We spoke with him about his research, his experience in the district, and what he’s learned about best practices in implementation of the science of reading, including the 95 Phonics Core Program®. Read on.

How did you get involved in the science of reading?

I’ve been working for Fairfax School District a little over 10 years now. Before that I was a math teacher so my background all comes from the math field. Yet now I find myself loving the science of reading, specifically in early literacy.

I got my first principal job at a K-6 elementary site. When I started, I had the mindset that ‘we are going to take over the world with math.’ But I found out early on I had students who couldn’t read. And before I could teach math, especially with the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balance Assessments, I needed my students to read, so suddenly my priorities shifted.

We started looking closely at our programs. I had a site that was very, very particular in the way they taught reading. But from my approach as a former math teacher, there was really no data or rhyme or reason for why we were teaching reading that way. I always taught in a very systematic way. So I looked at what other schools were doing.

We took a year to put some feelers out there to help figure out what we were going to do. Then in my second year we started doing Acadience testing and we brought in 95 Percent Group. We used the whole Tier 2 program. We were very, very, very successful with it and over a four-year span we saw the greatest growth in reading scores, specifically when you look at students that are low socioeconomic. We had the best growth in all of Kern County for our demographics. And in fact, we actually became a Title One model school. The Title One Federal Program Monitoring Team came to showcase our school and our different programs.

The 95 Percent Group Tier 2 model was very key along the way. We really got our Tier 2 program going on, but we didn’t have a solid Tier 1 phonics program of instruction initially. Then 95 Percent Group came out with the Tier 1 program and the first year that it came out, I ordered a couple of sets which I piloted in a kindergarten, first, second, and third grade classes. We saw a lot of success. Teachers really enjoyed it and the next year we went district-wide with the Tier 1 program—that was last year.

During this time, I was attending George Fox University working on my doctorate. I knew I wanted to study something around early literacy. I did an improvement science approach and realized I wanted to look at a systematic way of implementation because in schools we’re constantly bringing in new programs. I wanted to make sure that we’re implementing programs so that when we get data from our students, we can say that that growth is due to that program. I wanted to make sure that when we’re evaluating programs’ effectiveness, we can say we’re seeing the improvement because we’ve implemented these programs with fidelity. My goal was to understand the root causes of when and why we’re not implementing this Tier 1 Phonics program with fidelity and to enhance the fidelity of implementation. I used the Dane and Schneider** framework for the five factors that affect implementation fidelity: adherence, exposure, quality of delivery, differentiation, and participant responsiveness. For the in-depth analysis, you can read the dissertation linked in the references below.

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Considering a Tier 1 phonics program? David Mack, EdD, shares research from his dissertation “Improving Fidelity of Implementation of a Tier 1 Phonics Program: An Improvement Science Study” and 12 best practices from his district’s implementation. Learn how to take these 12 steps toward literacy success by clicking the download button below.

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