Transforming Literacy Education in New Haven Schools: A Success Story

Literacy Education in New Haven Schools

In a bid to bolster elementary reading skills, New Haven Community Educational Systems (NHPS) embarked on an experiment centered around “structured literacy.” This initiative yielded impressive results in just four months, prompting NHPS to extend the program into the summer and potentially the upcoming fall.

The pivotal moment came to light during a recent presentation at the biweekly Board of Education (BOE) meeting, where officials unveiled a remarkable transformation in K-1 reading scores at five schools. This transformation was made possible through a collaboration with the innovative reading software, Footsteps 2 Brilliance.

The Footsteps 2 Brilliance program was piloted from February to May, marking a pivotal moment in New Haven’s struggle to combat declining literacy scores. Recent reports painted a concerning picture, with only 43% of kindergarteners, 32% of first-graders, 38% of second-graders, and 37% of third-graders reading at their grade level.

The pilot, conducted at John S. Martinez School, King-Robinson Inter-District Magnet School, Barack H. Obama Magnet School, Family Academy of Multilingual Exploration (FAME), and Bishop Woods School, demonstrated astonishing improvements. Eighty-three first-grade students witnessed a 130% increase in oral reading fluency and a 31% improvement in phonemic awareness. Approximately 50 kindergarteners experienced a remarkable 94% boost in their reading levels.

Beyond these quantitative gains, students also made significant strides in phonological awareness, phonics, language, reading comprehension, and logic and reasoning skills.

NHPS is now devising a plan to enhance reading instruction for the next school year, recognizing the importance of addressing elementary reading education in light of recent discussions. The school district aims to adapt its teaching methods to cater to diverse student needs, rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach.

The Footsteps 2 Brilliance application proved to be a customizable digital literacy program for pre-K through third grade. Its curriculum is rooted in the science of reading and a comprehensive phonics program, making it an ideal tool for educators and parents to bolster reading proficiency in both English and Spanish.

Viviana Conner, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Leadership/School Improvement, justified the district’s decision to pilot the program by stating that it aligned perfectly with their educational goals and priorities. The pilot program encompassed all teachers in level 1 training, with some advancing to level 2 instruction. It provided individual office hours, on-site visits, and hands-on professional development to support educators.

Eugene Narciso, Chief Operating Officer, celebrated the pilot’s success, emphasizing how New Haven outshone similar districts in this endeavor. The pilot program consumed a total of 4,670 hours during its duration, with K-1 students reading an impressive 30,792 books.

One testimony, provided by Bishop Woods teacher Stephanie Gross-Hernandez, highlighted the program’s transformative impact. She narrated the story of a first-grade student who, at the beginning of the year, struggled with reading, leading to frustration and a lack of confidence. Footsteps 2 Brilliance changed the game for this student, offering engaging and personalized instruction that led to increased confidence, reduced frustration, and ultimately, better learning outcomes.

Principal Flo Crisci of Bishop Woods School pointed out that the program significantly improved the school’s overall DIBELS scores, particularly among kindergarteners and first-graders. The program not only helped close learning gaps created during the pandemic but also actively engaged parents in their children’s learning journey.

Keisha Hannans, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Leadership, announced that the district would continue offering the program at four summer school sites as part of the Summer Climb program. This teacher-guided program will include bilingual units and cater to students who participated in the pilot, ensuring continued progress in reading skills.

In response to the resounding success of the pilot, several board members expressed their support. Vice President Matt Wilcox requested a comprehensive analysis of the pilot program’s reading score data compared to other schools, emphasizing the need to gauge its effectiveness. He also inquired about the possibility of implementing the program district-wide in the future.

As NHPS contemplates expanding the program for the fall, it is clear that they are committed to providing tailored, effective literacy education to meet the diverse needs of their students. In the words of Tracey, a school spokesperson, “One size does not fit all. We need to arm our teachers with everything they need so that they can address the needs of our learners.” With innovative initiatives like Footsteps 2 Brilliance, New Haven schools are on the right path to achieving this goal.