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ADVANCING ADOLESCENT LITERACY: Pennsylvania Literacy Program Improves Student Opportunities, Outcomes, New Alliance Report Finds

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“In a time when students must have reading and writing skills that compare with—and can compete with—their international peers, Pennsylvania has created a road map for improving literacy that all schools, districts, and states should observe closely,” said Alliance President Bob Wise.

PAKeystonesCoverAs one of only six states receiving a federal Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy (SRCL) grant, Pennsylvania has designed and implemented an innovative program that focuses on improved instruction and interventions to ensure every student is literate and graduates from high school ready for college and a career. A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education describes Pennsylvania’s grant initiative and highlights the state’s emphasis on professional learning and development to improve instruction, and ultimately, student achievement outcomes in literacy. The report, Advancing Adolescent Literacy: Pennsylvania’s Keystones to Opportunity Comprehensive Literacy Program, includes a set of policy recommendations at the local, state, and federal levels.

“In a time when students must have reading and writing skills that compare with—and can compete with—their international peers, Pennsylvania has created a road map for improving literacy that all schools, districts, and states should observe closely,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.

Pennsylvania, along with Georgia, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, and Texas, will receive a five-year federal SRCL grant, the report notes. Subsequently, through a competitive application process, Pennsylvania awarded $36.7 million to fifty-three districts and two charter schools to improve literacy instruction and outcomes for students with the greatest needs. To ensure the funding yields the best possible result for students, the state developed a comprehensive literacy program—known as Keystones to Opportunity (KtO)—that enable districts to self-assess their literacy performance and the literacy needs of students at risk of falling behind.

“Despite what we know about the nature of the problems of struggling readers and the need to bring effective literacy strategies to life in content-area classrooms, what actually goes on in classrooms often remains removed from education policy and administration,” notes KtO State Program Director Cindy Rhoads in the report.

The report details how the KtO coordinators created online tools and professional learning approaches to help districts and schools improve literacy instruction. It describes five KtO training modules that provide an array of evidence-based practices to increase teachers’ effectiveness in integrating reading and writing into course work. With this focus on professional learning and development, the KtO program ensures that educators will have the tools and skills necessary to help students master content in the English language arts state standards.

The report recommends that policymakers at all levels build on these initial efforts made by Pennsylvania and other SRCL grantees to improve literacy in every state. Specifically, the report recommends federal policymakers to continue funding the SRCL grant program and expand support for state literacy initiatives to all states. At the state level, policymakers are called to review their current literacy plan and design a birth-through-grade-twelve program that will better prepare students for college and a career. At the local level, policymakers can start by creating supportive teaching and learning environments that prioritize professional development.

“The problem of low levels of literacy among the nation’s young adults is enormous, and the situation is becoming worse as literacy demands increase in a globalized, technologically savvy workforce,” said Wise. “Pennsylvania’s KtO program is showing promising results and success in preparing all students for the most basic cornerstones for success in college, a career, and life: reading and writing.”

The full report, including the comprehensive list of policy recommendations, is available online at https://all4ed.org/reports-factsheets/advancing-adolescent-literacy-pennsylvanias-keystones-to-opportunity-comprehensive-literacy-program/.

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