Grant opens new chapter in Tulare County literacy pilot program

Tulare County Office of Education receives $5M grant to expand Readership program

TULARE COUNTY – Less than half (43%) of Tulare County students can read at or above their grade level. While that is certainly better than the 49% statewide, most would agree it is still not an acceptable number to have an educated population.

In an effort to improve reading and literacy, the California Department of Education announced it has awarded $35.6 million in Comprehensive Literacy State Development (CLSD) grants to seven offices of education this month. Tulare County Office of Education received just over $5 million to expand its Readership program over the next three years, from Sept. 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2024.

TCOE launched its literacy program with a $500,000 grant in September 2020 as a pilot project at Earlimart, Monson-Sultana Joint Union, Porterville Unified, Woodlake Unified and Woodville Union school districts.

Jenean Bray, English language arts and development specialist, said she and her program co-lead Tammy Milligan, both of the county’s Educational Resource Services (ERS), used the initial funding to study ways to motivate adolescent readers and give students access to books in creative ways.

The new CLSD grant focuses on adolescent readers, grades 6-12, and will expand Readership to schools in Visalia and Tulare, and include partnerships with county offices of education in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, and Merced counties. Participating Tulare County schools now include Monson-Sultana Joint Union School, Woodville Union School, Earlimart Middle School, Oak Valley Union School, Valley Life Charter School, Tulare Tech Prep High School, Burton Middle School and Summit Charter Intermediate Academy, Sunnyside Union School, Alta Vista School and Hope School. Ridgeview Middle School, El Diamante High School, and Golden West High School from Visalia Unified will also be included.

In the first year of the multi-county project, coaches from the five county offices of education and Visalia Unified will watch the elements of the Readership program as they unfold in other member schools. In subsequent years, the Visalia Unified and county coaches will plan, train, and implement Readership-style programs in their own organizations. Included in the grant will be many book purchases for the county offices, Visalia Unified schools, the creation of Little Libraries, books for parent events, and books for community locations.

The Readership team noted that state data shows adolescent students’ literacy developments slows as they progress through the secondary grades. Persistent achievement gaps exist for subgroups of English learners and students who are socio-economically disadvantaged. As a result, many rural English learners are categorized as long-term English learners (LTEL) throughout their secondary grades, failing to achieve the state’s Seal of Biliteracy in high school. The premise of TCOE’s grant proposal was that improvement in the area of adolescent reading develops from the motivation to read coupled with increased reading—ultimately leading to reading achievement.

Building on knowledge gained from the Readership project, the TCOE CLSD grant team seeks to impact participating students’ reading attitudes and achievements as measured by state tests and designations, while decreasing the percentage of long-term English learners (LTEL) and at-risk LTEL students in grades 6-12. The team also plans to empower teachers to deliver strong standards-aligned literacy instruction and apply Improvement Science and its cycles to improve student literacy. School and district libraries will also be addressed, designing them to be supportive resources for students and teachers creating cultures of literacy on campus.

“We’re enormously proud of the work our ERS team and pilot school districts did to develop an amazing literacy project in the midst of a pandemic, implement it, and now expand it for use in five additional counties,” said Tim Hire, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools.

Readership was born out of a $500,000 grant awarded in summer 2019 by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. The California Department of Education (CDE) provided the grant to address the statewide trend that more than 50% of K-12 students do not meet the standard for English Language Arts on state assessment tests. Readership is the latest project of TCOE’s Central Valley Networked Improvement Communities (CVNIC). Participating districts will convene four times during the school year at network meetings to focus on developing cultures of literacy, student mindsets, reading instructional practices, content pedagogy, and continuous improvement. The project’s continuous improvement work will focus on engaging each community in literacy, providing access to high-quality reading material, and empowering teachers and leaders. To support teachers, each will receive more than 100 books for their classrooms, professional resources, five days of coaching, and the opportunity to network alongside other schools. Additionally, districts will receive hundreds of books for distribution to students and families.

For additional information about the CLSD grant, contact Jenean Bray ([email protected]) or Tammy Milligan ([email protected]).

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