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Grant Project Aims to Boost Third-grade Reading

In an effort to improve third-grade reading proficiency, the district will receive $20,000 to implement instructional practices recommended by Reading Now Network over the next two-and-half years.

An instructional team of about a dozen literacy experts from all over the state recently visited classrooms to observe reading and writing instruction at Godfrey Elementary School, which houses third through fifth grades, and Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Education Center, which houses preschool through second grade.

Literacy expert Patti Konarska helps a student with letters (Photo courtesy of Kyle Mayer)
Literacy expert Patti Konarska helps a student with letters (Photo courtesy of Kyle Mayer)

The district was invited to receive help from RNN because of its demographics and low third-grade reading proficiency levels. The district has the second-highest English-language learner population in the state, at about 50 percent. About 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch and third-grade reading proficiency is about 27 percent.

“We are one of the lower-achieving schools,” said Godfrey Elementary Principal Andrew Steketee. “We don’t want our socioeconomic status to be an excuse for that. Knowing our students and staff, there is no reason we can’t be higher achieving. They are going to help us identify how to be more successful.”

Reading Now Network, a collaborative effort involving 100 districts, launched in 2014 to increase the proportion of third-graders reading proficiently to 80 percent.

It was started by examining best instructional practices at elementary schools with high reading success rates in order to implement them region-wide. High-achieving schools studied ranged from urban to rural, with varying levels of poverty.

Help from the Experts

As a participant, the Godfrey-Lee district receives a day of instructional rounds from literacy experts. Steketee will work with a facilitator, a highly skilled literacy expert, to put into practice priorities identified in the classroom visits.

Western Michigan University, in partnership with RNN, received a $12.5 million federal grant known as the High Impact Leadership Project. This project will support 152 of the highest-poverty, lowest-achieving schools in 20 West and Southwest Michigan counties, including Kent and Ottawa.

In its first group of schools, which includes Godfrey-Lee, RNN will conduct Harvard Instructional Rounds in participating schools by March 1, said Kyle Mayer, Ottawa Area ISD assistant superintendent. Schools will receive $20,000 from the High Impact Leadership Project, and assistance to implement the resulting recommendations and to support early literacy practices of the General Education Leadership Network.

If work done over the next two-and-half years in those schools proves effective in boosting student literacy achievement, another cohort of schools will receive similar supports.

“We are optimistic that if we work together to support research-based practice in every classroom every day, student achievement gains will follow,” Mayer said. If data shows improvement, the grant will be extended.

Project Provides Focus

Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center Principal Pete Geerling said he looks forward to recommendations from RNN.

“Right now, there are so many good things out there, and we as a district try to make sure we are up to speed with best practice,” Geerling said. “But this is going to provide some focus — a couple things we can wrap our heads around and really try to attack.”

RNN has also worked in identified lab schools, helping them improve scores through effective instructional practices. Those schools included Parkview Elementary in Wyoming Public Schools; Moon Elementary in Muskegon Public Schools; Woodbridge Elementary in Zeeland Public Schools; and Big Jackson, a two-room schoolhouse in Newaygo County.

As a result, Moon Elementary boosted third-grade proficiency rates on the M-STEP from about 8 to 17 percent. The school has an almost 100 percent free and reduced lunch rate.

“They hosted this process of instructional rounds two years ago, identified some priorities and were supported by the Muskegon ISD in following through on those,” Mayer said. “They are kind of the shining star as a school that is really deeply committed to recommendations that were produced out of an instructional rounds day. They have results that show things are moving in the right direction.”


SNN article on Reading Now Network findings

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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