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News from November 2016

Texas Literacy Initiative partner district Nixon-Smiley finds success
November 1, 2016

The Nixon-Smiley school district was highly successful in meeting goals set in 2012 as part of its partnership with the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI), according to the district's fourth and final initiative report.

“Leadership across the district have worked together to implement all facets of the initiative to ensure that the goals were met and that STAAR test scores increased across the board since 2012,” said Texas Literacy Initiative State Literacy Liaison Michelle Lambert-Yuhasz.

The only goal that was not entirely met pertained to increasing the percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency on STAAR English language arts assessments in grades 3 through 12. However, students improved greatly over the 4-year period, meeting four of the five goals in this reporting period compared to just one of five in the first reporting period.   

The five TLI goals are (1) to increase oral language and preliteracy skills of preschool children; (2) to increase the performance of students in kindergarten through grade 2 on early reading assessments; (3) to increase the percentage of students who meet or exceed proficiency on STAAR tests in grades 3 through 12; (4) to increase the use of data and data analysis to inform all decision-making across the district, in campuses, in classrooms, and in early learning settings; and (5) to increase the implementation of effective literacy instruction through literacy lines.   

Campus administrators were pleased with the initiative’s transformative effects, according to the report, and highlighted a number positive changes, including (1) data sharing to inform instruction and identify student needs, (2) integration of assessment data into the district's response to intervention system, and (3) promotion of professional relationships between district staff and instructional personnel to increase academic outcomes.

“The administration at the campus levels have backed the initiative saying that this will be an expectation for our students to be producing writing pieces in all content areas," according to a particiapant quoted in the report. "It is not only a tested skill, but also a lifelong skill for jobs, and college. The administration has been very supportive in backing that plan and setting those expectations for teachers that they are all on board with helping facilitate writing in all classrooms.”

Goal Outcomes Met in Each Reporting Period

  Period 1 Period 2 Period 3 Period 4
Goal 1: Preliteracy Skills yes yes yes yes
Goal 2: K–2 Fluency Skills yes yes yes yes
Goal 3: STAAR Performance: Reading (Grades 3 to 8)     yes yes
             STAAR Performance: Writing (Grades 4 and 7) yes yes yes yes
             STAAR Performance: English I Reading       yes
             STAAR Performance: English I Writing   yes yes yes
             STAAR Performance: English II Reading        
Goal 4: Data Analysis   yes yes yes
Goal 5: Effective Literacy Instruction via Literacy Lines yes     yes

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center 

News from September 2016

Pilot Point Middle School sees significant increase in STAAR scores
September 9, 2016

After working with the Texas Literacy Initiative to set higher expectations and put a greater emphasis on making data-driven decisions, Pilot Point Middle School saw a significant increase in its STAAR scores from 2015 to 2016.

In grade 8, the pass rate for the reading portion of the STARR jumped from 77% in 2015 to 89% in 2016. For students from lower socioeconomic status, the pass rate increased from 70% to 83%. Most notably, however, for English as a second language (ESL) students, the pass rate increased from 30% to 82% (see the table below).

The principal at Pilot Point Middle School, Dustin Toth, credited this increase in test scores to the hard work of his students, teachers, and staff.

In addition, he said, his teachers received invaluable assistance from Regina Wheat, an instructional coach who receives funding from the Texas Literacy Initiative, and Michelle Lambert-Yuhasz, a Texas Literacy Initiative state literacy liaison.

“Each time [Lambert-Yuhasz visited] our campus, I would try to get as much feedback as I could on our programs and identify what changes we needed to make to keep our campus moving forward,” Toth said.

Some of the changes contributing to Pilot Point’s successful test scores included a new campuswide vocabulary initiative, a move away from a pullout ESL program to one allowing students to be in a regular reading class each day, and the introduction of a special STAAR reading class for students in need of more intensive reading support.

“A major key to our success was the collaboration between our students and teachers,” Toth said, explaining how teachers not only took time to review assessments with their students, but also had their students set goals for subsequent tests and develop plans of action to achieve those goals while monitoring progress along the way.

A general education teacher, a special education teacher, an ESL teacher, a counselor, the principal, and an instructional coach reviewed the data and then developed appropriate intervention plans. Finally, identified strengths and weaknesses were discussed at grade-level meetings to look at the ways individual teachers could boost specific objectives and foundational skills in their class.

“Needless to say, we are excited about the direction our campus is headed,” Toth said. “It has been a total team effort and we can’t wait to keep moving forward next year.”

STAAR Grade 8 Reading Scores
  Satisfactory Advanced
  2016 2015 2016 2015
All Students 89 77 21 17
Economically Disadvantaged 83 70 17 11
Limited English Proficient 70 27 0 0
English as a Second Language 82 30 0 0

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center 

News from August 2016

Emile Elementary book study program changes mindsets, sees results
August 8, 2016

The Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) and Emile Elementary School in Bastrop have developed a book study program for teachers that goes beyond reading and responding—instead creating a culture-changing, high-impact professional learning community that has seen real results.

Emile Elementary Principal Jennifer Hranitzky, TLI State Literacy Liaison Jennifer Greene Gast, and TLI District Literacy Liaison Angeline Vrbsky developed the program for Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci during a summer brainstorming session. As a part of its campus improvement plan, Emile Elementary chose the book for its 2015–2016 book study.

In the book, Ricci focuses on how to implement a “growth” mindset (versus a “fixed” mindset) in the classroom. This idea comes from the research of Carol Dweck. According to Dweck’s Mindset website, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits ... [and] that talent alone creates success—without effort. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Emile teachers met monthly on Mondays after school. Gast or Vrbsky demonstrated one instructional strategy at each meeting, and teachers participated in activities in an interactive notebook for each chapter. At the end of the program, teachers had a notebook that highlighted the main points of each chapter and the staff appointed “mindset mentors” who will use their notebooks to guide new teachers through Mindsets in the Classroom.

As teachers began to put this new knowledge into practice, the effects could be seen.

“We found students who began the year below level in reading making gains and no longer pushing reading materials away in frustration,” Hranitzky said. “They have built persistence and are more likely to ask for the harder problems when given an option of choices.”

The numbers back up Hranitzky’s observations. Several areas have seen marked improvement, including the following from the first-grade Texas Primary Reading Inventory.

First Grade: Percentage of Students Scoring Proficient on the TPRI
  Beginning of the Year Middle of the Year Gain
Phonological Awareness 62% 84% 35%
Graphophonemic Knowledge 65% 85% 31%
Word Reading 18% 52% 189%
Fluency 38% 72% 89%
Comprehension 25% 66% 164%

One student in particular started the year with high levels of anxiety but later embraced the idea that her learning was tied to how hard she worked, not how “smart” she was—key to a growth mindset. By the end of the school year, she had been on the A/B Honor Roll twice and asked the teacher for paperwork to apply for gifted-and-talented screening.

Across the campus, teachers reported hearing “I can’t do this” less this past year, Hranitzky said. “Our pre-K students even embrace that they have to work hard to grow their brain.”

Best of all, the ideas from the book study and the culture it created didn’t end after the monthly meetings. Emile Elementary now holds ongoing mindset-related read-aloud lessons in the classroom and has held two family literacy nights.

“Teachers need to take their mindset seriously,” said Christina Phillips, a prekindergarten teacher at Emile. “Anyone working in the school environment can have such a powerful effect on students if only they have the right mindset.”

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center 

News from February 2016

TLI partnership with Nixon-Smiley yields tremendous growth in prekindergarten
February 1, 2016

Through hard work and an ongoing partnership with the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI), the prekindergarten program at Nixon-Smiley Elementary School has posted dramatic gains in literacy.

A comparison of the numbers from the beginning of the 2014–2015 school year to the beginning of the 2015–2016 school year speaks for itself—on the CLI Engage assessment, the percentage of prekindergarten students deemed as making “acceptable progress” improved in several areas:

  • From 27% in 2014 to 53% in 2015 in letter knowledge
  • From 1% to 40% in vocabulary
  • From 47% in to 73% in phonological awareness

“It has been a journey,” said Shea Sultemeier, the prekindergarten instructional coach for the rural district 50 miles southeast of San Antonio. “Since the inception of TLI, several steps clearly impacted the positive growth of our prekindergarten students.”

Sultemeier went on to detail initiatives during the 4-year partnership, highlighting the work of Family Literacy Liaisons Thelma Deleon and Vanesa Deleon, a new position funded through TLI. Thelma Deleon was the school’s first liaison, and Vanesa Deleon joined her in the 2015–2016 school year. The family literacy liaisons visit homes and build literacy by reading with very young children before they are old enough for school, encouraging environmental print, informing parents about the importance of talking to babies and toddlers, and using technology to support English language development. As word has spread, more parents have contacted the liaisons for their input and support. Early in the process, Thelma Deleon formed a parent group that remains in place today. And this school year, Vanesa Deleon facilitated the Read and Rise parent course, which will result in a group of parent leaders to carry on building literacy in the home.

“The success of our 3- and 4-year-old programs is directly related to having family liaisons who build literacy in the home and involve the entire family in the process,” Sultemeier said. “The data show that the strong literacy foundation for families that is established in our district creates students who are more developmentally prepared to enter the elementary grades.”

Back in the school, the work has evolved over the 4 years of the partnership with TLI—work that continues today. In the first year, the 3- and 4-year-old programs determined what scientifically based curriculum to use, prekindergarten teachers collaborated with elementary teachers to build classroom management systems and procedures for vertical consistency, and an early childhood specialist observed and coached teachers to establish processes and goals. In subsequent years, Nixon-Smiley created a schedule for benchmarking and data analysis at the beginning, middle, and end of the year; continued to work with the early childhood specialist; established explicit lesson plan expectations based on prekindergarten guidelines; integrated writing into all centers; and partnered with the Ready Rosie early childhood engagement online program.

“The amazing thing to see is that when resources are introduced into [this] community, the payback happens,” Sultemeier said. “Investing in the young before school is crucial to the development of students’ and parents’ literacy. The evidence has been the impact the program has had on the language development of our prekindergarten students. The data show that the people and systems that have been put into place over the course of the TLI [partnership] have increased the success of our early childhood program.”

TLI, part of the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, works across the state to ensure that every child is prepared for the literacy demands of college and a career by high school graduation. For more information, visit the TLI project webpage.

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center 

News from August 2014

Bastrop ISD embraces secondary coaching support through the Texas Literacy Initiative
August 26, 2014

With the ongoing support of the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts through the Texas Literacy Initiative, Bastrop Independent School District instructional specialists have enacted a robust coaching cycle to support all teachers at its secondary campuses in incorporating reading, writing, and vocabulary instruction in all of the core content areas.

Leaders in Bastrop Independent School District (BISD) first set out to implement the coaching model more than a year ago. At the time, the Director of Secondary Education at BISD, Nancy Roll, sought assistance from the Vaughn Gross Center and the Texas Literacy Initiative.

In the coaching cycle, instructional specialists meet with teachers to identify their professional development needs before observing teachers in the classroom and then providing meaningful one-on-one feedback based on the observations. The coaching cycle then repeats, enabling teachers to improve their craft, learn on the job, and immediately enact new techniques.

Vaughn Gross Center staff members have worked side by side with BISD instructional specialists throughout the process. First, the Vaughn Gross Center staff members directly provided coaching to teachers as the instructional specialists observed. Gradually, the instructional specialists took over the coaching process, with support from the Vaughn Gross Center. Collaborative planning and modeling have helped to build the coaching capacity of the instructional specialists.

A recent survey revealed that BISD instructional specialists found the Vaughn Gross Center coaching support to be highly beneficial, noting especially how assistance was individualized for specific content areas. Mary Gray, an instructional specialist at Bastrop High School, explained that the model of coaching support was beneficial because she could talk to her Vaughn Gross Center support provider before and after each of the three components of the coaching cycle to assist with the planning process and implementation. “I also like that this program allows us to work at our own pace,” she said. “It has been great.”

Instructional specialists described the support as being “most effective in showing us how to coach” with “no pressure.” One coach noted that repeating the process with a consistent teacher “really made the difference in how the teacher and I grew.”

Instructional specialists and teachers are beginning to notice the difference that instructional coaching can make. As one instructional specialist explained, “I’ve seen a difference in the teacher’s classroom instruction based upon our coaching conversations.” Teachers were happy to receive feedback from the instructional specialist and to implement new practices. Participating teachers have felt progressively more comfortable asking the instructional specialists for help and inviting them into their classroom. These increasingly open relationships have even served to create a more collaborative culture on the campuses.

BISD plans to continue strengthening the coaching model this upcoming school year by increasing the number of teachers involved in the coaching process and by introducing a peer-coaching model with the support of the Vaughn Gross Center. The peer coaching process will provide teachers with a space to work together to reflect on current practices and share ideas for continual improvement. “We want to create a culture where we welcome observers into our classrooms and we seek feedback,” Roll said. “Teachers can learn so much from one another.”

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News from July 2014

Nixon-Smiley strengthens the school-family partnership through the Texas Literacy Initiative
July 28, 2014

Recognizing the crucial role that families play in supporting their children’s literacy and learning, Nixon-Smiley Consolidated Independent School District has dedicated itself to improving the school-family partnership, including hiring a family literacy liaison to advance the district’s literacy goals.

Thelma DeLeon, the Nixon-Smiley family literacy liaison, helps families with children from age 0 through high school better understand how to support and encourage literacy development. DeLeon works directly with families in their homes to build strong parent-child relationships, helping families create academic workspaces, structure after-school time, support children with academic tasks, and foster a “whole-family approach” to reading at home.

DeLeon also collaborates with teachers, counselors, and administrators about the progress of students to ensure that school personnel and the families are united in their efforts to maximize the learning of each student. Additionally, she helps organize community literacy events to promote family involvement and awareness.

DeLeon has gained a strong reputation with her clients, and word is spreading in the community. Recently, a parent who received in-home support from DeLeon raved to another parent about the difference it had made in her son’s development. She stated that while she was first impressed with her son’s growth, over time she realized that the biggest change was in her parenting. The parent now regularly uses the strategies DeLeon introduced to her son.

DeLeon says that seeing these types of changes in parents may be the most rewarding aspect of her job. “It brings a smile to my face to see the parents emulate the strategies that I model for them,” she said, “to see them work with their children and to see their relationship with their child grow stronger because of my support.”

Nixon-Smiley allocated funds for the new position through the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI). TLI is a professional development and technical assistance initiative focused on improving school readiness and ensuring that all students are prepared to meet the literacy demands of college. TLI recognizes that many families do not fully understand the important role they play in their children’s literacy or how best to support their children’s development. To address the discrepancies in students’ home literacy experiences, TLI has developed a Texas State Literacy Plan focused on strengthening early childhood education and the school-family partnership.

The Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin has supported teachers and specialists, like DeLeon, across the state through TLI. DeLeon and others partner closely with the Vaughn Gross Center to develop implementation plans to promote best practices in literacy instruction.

One person who has taken notice of the excellent family literacy achievements of DeLeon and the Vaughn Gross Center is Dr. Cathy Booth, the superintendent of Nixon-Smiley. “We are so pleased to have Thelma DeLeon working with families in our community to develop early literacy and learning skills in their preschool children,” Booth said. “Research has long proven that school success is largely based on a child’s ability to read well. However, many of our children are living in poverty. This often puts them at a disadvantage because they lack the reading readiness skills developed in more affluent homes through a print-rich environment and parents who read to them. Thelma’s work with our community helps close the gap. The work she is doing with them today will impact the future of each child and family as she sets them up for school, and thus lifelong, success.”

Just as many parents cannot imagine being without her assistance, DeLeon says that she receives the expert support that she needs, too. “I could not do the work that I do without the support of the Vaughn Gross Center,” she said. “They have been integral to the everyday family literacy work that I do.”

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News from May 2014

With the Vaughn Gross Center’s support, Arlington ISD’s inaugural Parent University is a success
May 30, 2014

With more than 500 participants, close to 100 workshop sessions, and nearly 100 organizations represented, the inaugural Arlington Independent School District Parent University was a success.

  Earlier this year, the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin helped Arlington Independent School District (ISD) kick off its first Parent University. The Parent University offered support and resources to parents of students of all grade levels through workshop presentations by educational experts and a community resource fair with participation from many local organizations.

  Since 2011, Arlington ISD and the Vaughn Gross Center have worked to develop a strong partnership through the Texas Literacy Initiative, a statewide program launched to improve school readiness and ensure that all students are prepared to meet the literacy demands of college by high school graduation. The Vaughn Gross Center collaborates with hundreds of Arlington ISD teachers, coaches, and administrators to advance literacy outcomes for children from age 0 through grade 12 through ongoing professional development and technical assistance. As demonstrated at the Arlington ISD Parent University, the Texas Literacy Initiative distinguishes itself from past state-funded literacy initiatives by building strong connections between families, schools, and communities to support early childhood literacy and ongoing academic achievement.

  “The Texas Literacy Initiative has played a key role in building a thriving community for literacy in Arlington,” said Yoko Matsumoto, the Arlington Public Library program and community engagement administrator. “With the support of the Vaughn Gross Center, the Texas Literacy Initiative has strengthened the network of organizations that are making a positive impact on literacy and supporting quality education in Arlington.”

  The Arlington ISD Parent University consisted of informative workshop sessions provided by local and state experts and a community resource fair that featured important organizations and institutions, including the Pathways to College Access and Career Readiness Program at The University of Texas at Arlington, the YMCA, and the Arlington Fire Department.

  The Vaughn Gross Center led two presentations at the event. In the session “The Importance of Reading Aloud to Children,” parents learned of the benefits of reading with their children and were taught an eight-step routine to support vocabulary development and reading comprehension. In the “Praising Children” session, participants learned how “process praise” could be used to strengthen motivation, student achievement, and the child-parent relationship.

  Building on the success of the inaugural event, Arlington ISD and the Vaughn Gross Center recently joined forces again for a second Parent University to support the families and children of Arlington ISD.

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Collaboration, communication help Texas Literacy Initiative boost student literacy across Austin ISD
May 13, 2014

In a recent survey, Austin Independent School District teachers, reading coaches, and administrators reported that the Texas Literacy Initiative has significantly improved student literacy.

  The Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) is a professional development and technical assistance project that works to improve school readiness and ensure that all students are prepared to meet the literacy demands of college. For the past 2 years, Austin Independent School District (AISD) has participated in TLI for prekindergarten through grade 12, benefiting more than 20,000 students.

  In November 2013, AISD’s Department of Research and Evaluation conducted a survey of 297 teachers, 51 literacy coaches and reading specialists, and 48 administrators.

  Across the board, AISD educators reported being well supported in their efforts to improve students’ reading outcomes. In the survey, 93% of teachers and 94% of reading coaches said that their campus administrators supported their TLI work, and 83% of administrators reported that they received “the support I need” from district-level TLI staff.

  An impressive 98% of administrators reported that TLI improves student literacy at their school. A substantial majority (81%) of teachers noted that TLI reading coaches are important to the academic success of their students.

  TLI’s emphasis on data-informed decision-making is one of the factors driving improvement in student achievement. Data meetings helped 87% of teachers “drive my instruction to support the needs of my students.” One surveyed teacher explained that a benefit of meeting with reading coaches is “…being able to sit down and review the data showing student progress and being able to work together to collaborate on different activities that will help support our students’ learning.”

  Teamwork and collaboration play key roles in TLI’s success. With a high number of AISD schools and educators involved, the implementation plan depends on consistent communication across the school sites and strong professional learning communities.

  The Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin works closely with the leadership at AISD to develop effective grant implementation teams and prepare literacy coaches to support teachers in meeting their instructional goals. As Marissa Campbell, the reading coach at Guerrero Thompson Elementary School, said, “Often, I feel my job enters uncharted territory—yet the [TLI] training and support help me find my path.”

  To ensure that best practices for instruction, professional development, and community involvement are consistently employed, similar surveys and student data reporting will continue to track TLI’s progress in the district.

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center 

News from October 2013

Texas Literacy Initiative sees success in Arlington ISD
October 29, 2013

For the community, its educators, and—most importantly—more than 40,000 students, the Texas Literacy Initiative’s early work in Arlington Independent School District is already paying off.

The Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) works to improve the school readiness and success in language and literacy of disadvantaged students in targeted local education agencies and their associated early childhood education providers. In Arlington Independent School District (ISD) alone, TLI works with 14 early childhood education centers, 31 elementary schools, 6 junior high schools, 3 high schools, and the Arlington Public Library. In very little time, TLI has helped Arlington ISD accomplish a great deal in the areas of professional development, data collection and analysis, and community involvement.

Professional development is a focus of TLI efforts in the district, including sessions on the features of effective instruction, vocabulary and oral language development, and phonological awareness. The vocabulary session was delivered in a “training of trainers” format, in which TLI planned and practiced with campus coaches prior to them, in turn, training teachers. Follow-up by coaches with teachers during grade-level meetings and implementation visits will help support a deep understanding of the content, effective instructional delivery, and engaged and motivated students.

On her blog, an Arlington ISD junior high teacher wrote the following about trying out a vocabulary routine that she learned through TLI professional development. “By the time we finished, one of my girls called me over and said, ‘Are we going to do more words this way? This was fun!’ Out of all my students, she was one of the last I expected to hear this from.”

TLI also conducts technical assistance observations in Arlington ISD. According to Becki Krsnak, the TLI project manager in the district, these visits “have been eye opening not only for the teachers and administrators on those campuses, but also for our district specialists. ... Conversations now focus on not only modeling these instructional strategies, but also on aligning trainings from grade level to grade level, following up on trainings, repeating basic trainings annually, and exploring the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and how to teach them. From these visits, campuses have requested targeted professional development, including planning sessions and demonstration lessons with teachers.”

TLI stresses the importance of data for all involved with the initiative. Now, Arlington ISD teachers in prekindergarten through second grade administer assessments three times a year, allowing district specialists, teachers, and administrators to identify missing links in their primary instruction. Teachers hold focused data discussions and district specialists align their support to match student need.

Last year, TLI held two meetings for principals, early childhood education directors, and campus representatives to review data and identify strengths and areas of need. These data meetings have led to a district TLI plan and individual site and campus plans, which are reviewed and revised throughout each school year.

Further, teams from each campus have completed an inventory to identify their level of implementation in several areas. Campuses use these data to identify action steps and participate in an online course that provides research-based information to guide their efforts.

Increased community involvement is another positive effect of TLI work throughout the district. Through its close partnership with TLI, the Arlington Public Library has provided many services to young children, parenting classes for the parents of prekindergarten students, literacy mentoring programs for high school students, training for daycare teachers, and parent training on effective read-alouds.

For more information about TLI, visit the Striving Readers page of the U.S. Department of Education website.

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center