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Professional learning helps close the literacy gap in Colorado

Tasked with improving student literacy achievement at her school, Dalton Elementary School Principal Jessica Abel-Pype recognized the transformative potential of the evidence-based, structured literacy resources from 95 Percent Group. After partnering with 95 Percent Group and its literacy coaches, Dalton Elementary School began experiencing a significant rise in school performance and student literacy.

young female teacher in glasses smiling while helping little students kids

Snapshot: Dalton Elementary School, Aurora School District, Colorado

  • Arapahoe, Adams, and Douglas counties—15 miles east of Denver
  • District facts:
    • 58 schools
    • Enrollment: 38,000
    • Faculty: 6,000
    • English Learners: 42%
    • Students with free or reduced lunch: 73.1%
    • Students with disabilities: 15.2%
    • Graduation rate: 75.9%
  • Dalton Elementary School facts:
    • Enrollment: 421
    • Faculty: 50
    • English Learners: 24.7%
    • Students with free or reduced lunch: 74.9%
    • Students with disabilities: 20.2%
    • Average daily attendance: 91.7%

Structured literacy instruction improves school performance rating

At the start of the 2018–2019 school year, based on student performance on state assessments, Dalton Elementary School had a “Priority Improvement” rating under the Colorado School Performance Framework. Identified as low performing and not meeting or approaching expectations on most performance metrics, the school would be under observation until performance improved. In her first year as principal at the school, Jessica Abel-Pype had a sense of urgency about increasing student literacy achievement. She had used 95 Percent Group’s literacy solutions in previous roles as a classroom teacher and assistant principal in other schools, and knew these resources worked well for teachers and students. One of Abel-Pype’s first bold moves as principal of Dalton Elementary School, therefore, was to purchase 95 Phonics Lesson Library™—she knew that each lesson mapped back to specific skills assessed by 95 Percent Group’s diagnostic screeners, 95 Phonemic Awareness Screener for Intervention™ (PASITM) and 95 Phonics Screener for Intervention™ (PSITM).

Educators at the school began using 95 Phonics Lesson Library and soon started using Multisyllable Routine Card Package and 95 Phonemic Awareness Suite as well during the newly created schoolwide intervention blocks. It was all hands on deck with classroom teachers and interventionists in order to provide focused phonics instruction to students who were grouped by both grade level bands (Kindergarten, grades one and two, or grades three through five) and by the skill they were working to master.

“The goal,” Abel-Pype said, “was to ensure that students were getting explicit and targeted systematic literacy instruction.”

After one year of using several products from the One95 Literacy Ecosystem™, the school raised its rating and was designated as “Improvement” during the 2019-2020 school year. They were making progress and meeting some performance metric expectations. But they still had some work to do. They were not yet meeting all of their expectations. As 2020 opened, teachers and interventionists at the school were focused on literacy instruction and were determined to accelerate students’ reading improvement. They set out to extend the use of 95 Phonics Lesson Library across all grade levels—an expansion from the use in the intervention blocks during the first year. Then the pandemic hit. Students were mostly remote during the following school year, and Abel-Pype was unable to implement any new literacy initiatives. The school continued to provide literacy intervention as much as was possible in the remote learning landscape.

As they began to regroup with in-person learning in the fall of 2021, Abel-Pype purchased and implemented 95 Phonics Core Program® for K-3 classrooms. It was an important purchase for fortifying their core instruction and would bring the turning point they needed. With a core Tier 1 literacy program in place for Kindergarten through 3rd grade, literacy improvement continued to be the overall focus and a point of excitement and pride for teachers and staff at Dalton Elementary School.

Professional learning refines literacy instruction

Abel-Pype started to prioritize time and resources to help teachers build a deeper understanding of the instructional routines within 95 Phonics Lesson Library, and aligned all foundational skill instruction to the 95 Phonics Skill Continuum. Colorado state requires 45 training hours in science of reading for K-3 teachers, so it was imperative that teachers and interventionists understood the foundation of the science of reading and what it means to have a structured literacy approach.

Abel-Pype also understood the importance of honoring the integrity of each resource, and knew that while they were already seeing improvement, they could increase the effectiveness of their lesson delivery with greater product knowledge. When COVID Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds became available, Abel-Pype allocated some of Dalton’s funds toward adding ongoing 95 Percent Group professional learning services.

In May 2022, Judie Caroleo, 95 Percent Group’s director of training and development, visited the school to assess strengths and gaps in the implementation of Literacy Ecosystem resources, and provided clear next steps for the elementary school.

The school subsequently implemented coaching during the 2022-23 school year, with half-day training sessions three times per year for each grade level team. During their time together, classroom teachers and interventionists, along with school leaders, refined their practices and deepened their understanding of the instructional routines for each of the resources.

“We were beginning to see a common instructional language across tiers of instruction for teachers and students,” said Abel-Pype. “We were growing together and putting the systems in place that support student learning and achievement.”

Impacts of professional learning

Abel-Pype attributes the working relationship between Caroleo and her team and the teachers at Dalton as a key factor in the overall success of the program. Caroleo’s approach and seamless support for the teachers and interventionists at Dalton Elementary was tailored to meet the specific needs of each grade level, making coaching sessions effective and supportive for teachers.

One of the most important benefits of working with Judie is that she reaffirms what you are doing right and helps you get where you need to be with the areas that you are struggling with. When we are feeling unsure in a part of our instruction, she coaches us, models it with kids, and helps us through it step by step.

Tatum Berry

First Grade Teacher | Dalton Elementary School, Aurora, CO

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