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Spotlight Ohio: Structured literacy is a non-negotiable

After receiving training on the science of reading, educators at Fairless Elementary School in Ohio determined that the next step was to add structured literacy resources into their curriculum. And it was non-negotiable. Learn about their challenges, successes and best practices for Tiers 1 and 2, and what’s new on the horizon for Tier 3.

tier 2 literacy intervention with teacher and student

Although educators at Fairless Elementary School had started the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling® (LETRS® training in 2016, many things—including the unexpected pandemic in 2020—caused them to put it on hold. Eventually, they extended their license and finished the training in 2021. According to Adam Amato, elementary reading instructional specialist celebrating his 10th year in education, the major takeaways and a detailed look at what their students and teachers needed to be successful led them, ultimately, to look for instructional materials that would fit their new non-negotiable of structured literacy.

Snapshot: Fairless Elementary School

  • Brewster, OH: 60 miles due south of Cleveland
  • Total enrollment: 590
  • Preschool enrollment: 94
  • Students w/ free or reduced lunch: 250 (42%)
  • Students with disabilities: 110 (19%)
  • Average daily attendance: 94.5%

Challenges lead to literacy change

Once they had wrapped up training with the LETRS® program, educators at Fairless Elementary in Ohio did what everybody else would do: they found a starting point—and made the necessary adjustments.

They knew that when looking to adopt a new curriculum, the priority had to be the core instruction—the instruction all students would receive in the classroom. Upon figuring out that they could use and extend into grades 2 and 3 what they already had for core instruction, they then turned to working out the best path for intervention.

“We had a lot of readers who were struggling,” Amato stated. “In many cases, when you were looking at MAP or Acadience data, half of our students were reading below grade level. And in some cases, we were still seeing below grade level scores in 4th and 5th grades.”

At first, they began piecing together materials they had already been using along with another product—one that they could print resources from online. They soon discovered that their teachers, as motivated and dedicated as they were, were getting frustrated.

“It was burning them out because there was so much prep time needed. They had to copy the stories. They had to make word cards, they had to create the games that were provided; they had to create all of their materials. And it was a struggle for them to keep up with the prep to be able to implement it. We needed something more comprehensive.”

A true phonics lesson plan

It was at this point that Amato and his team heard about the 95 Phonics Lesson Library™. “We saw that these were our weak points, and that this had everything needed for teaching and learning,” he continued.

That winter they purchased the 95 Phonics Lesson Library and, by spring, began implementing the program as their Tier 2 intervention resource in classrooms. “After seeing it in action for a few weeks with students, we realized what a true speech-to-print format and a true phonics lesson plan look like,” Amato said excitedly. “We could see clearly that even though the curriculum we had been using had brought us a long way, and given us a lot of background knowledge, at this point it was falling short. It didn’t have what we needed.”

“It’s not easy for teachers to hear ‘we want you to change what you’re doing.’ The truth is that once we got into looking at everything the curriculum offered, I didn’t have to work very hard because the products are so great.”

Adam Amato

Reading Instructional Specialist Grades 2-3 | Fairless Local Schools

A phonics core curriculum comparison

Amato knew 95 Percent Group had other resources, including a Tier 1 curriculum: 95 Core Phonics Program®.

This prompted the second-grade team to dive deeper into their existing reading curriculum to identify its shortcomings, and look for what they really need to understand if 95 Phonics Core Program would better meet their Tier 1 needs. They recognized the need for phonemic awareness, access to decodable text, and an evidence-aligned structure for teaching sounds and skills.

As they explored the program, they decided to pilot it with their high-performing first-grade students, who would be transitioning to second grade in the fall. Convincing the school administration to fund this new program was a challenge, but they eventually secured the support. Amato knew it wouldn’t be effective to just impose a new curriculum on his colleagues and teammates, but aimed to ensure buy-in and to show that they could enhance the existing teaching methods.

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