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Doctor's Note: Literacy Lab

This morning I was able to see firsthand the success of a project I worked on during the 2016 General Assembly Session. What began as a public-private partnership with a small investment from the state has grown into something much larger throughout Richmond, Henrico and Petersburg. With the support of the Virginia General Assembly, The Literacy Lab launched an expansion of the Virginia Reading Corps in the greater Richmond area in August 2016. The Literacy Lab was then able to leverage the Commonwealth’s $300,000 budget amendment into a $1,200,000 program, quadrupling the General Assembly’s investment with additional private and public funding.

The Literacy Lab’s K-3 Model

The Literacy Lab addresses a significant problem in education; children who are failing to achieve grade level reading targets by the time they enter third grade. Failing to reach this benchmark is very clearly associated with future failure in school and in life, and even affects workforce readiness.

What I love about this program and the model they use is that progress is not just tested, but thoroughly assessed and data-driven. Businesses throughout the greater Richmond community have supported this program with their investments because they realize how critical an impact education has on workforce development. Another great aspect of this program is that 90% of the hired tutors are recent graduates from one of Virginia’s colleges and universities. This retention of teacher talent within the Commonwealth provides more opportunities for graduates seeking a career in education.

The Literacy Lab has now created partnerships with 18 high-need elementary schools in Henrico County, Petersburg, and Richmond. 36 full-time early literacy tutors were employed and trained in September 2016. The response from partner schools and districts was incredible, and many requested additional services within just weeks of the program’s launch date.

Students eligible to receive these services are Kindergarten to 3rd grade students scoring “below target” on benchmark assessment probes administered by the tutors; students who need reading skill practice versus intensive reading instruction; and students receiving special education or English Language services on a case-by-case basis, as determined by the Internal Coach in collaboration with school staff.

Proven Success

According to their 2016-2017 Midyear Data Report, the Literacy Lab has 608 students currently receiving tutoring from grades K-3. 60 students have reached grade level targets and completed the program. All of these children work one-on-one with their tutor each day of the school week. Literacy Lab tutors are serving as part of an AmeriCorps program focused on preventing reading failure and ensuring all students are reading on grade level by third grade.

Tutors are supervised by an Internal Coach at the school they are partnered with. Individualized teaching plans are created for each child. If the initial plan is not successful, the tutors regroup with the Master Coaches and another is developed. This process continues until progress is achieved.

An independent study of the Reading Corps Model utilized by the Literacy Lab, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, found that:

After a single semester of tutoring, the average kindergarten student receiving tutoring performed twice as well as students without one.

Tutors helped the average first grade student perform 11 percent better than untutored peers, and 26 percent higher than the expected level for on-track students after one semester of tutoring.

Students with higher risk factors (such as dual language learners and students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch) who received tutoring significantly outperformed students who didn’t receive tutoring.

Student performance did not vary by tutor characteristics (i.e., gender, race, age, years of education, full/part-time AmeriCorps status, or prior education experience), nor by the specific school at which the tutoring occurred, which suggests the model is highly replicable.

Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School

Today we visited the students and faculty of Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School, and were able to watch their two Literacy Lab tutors in action. Emily and Joi demonstrated how effectively the 20 minute session functions.

Many thanks to Tom Dillon & Ashley Johnson, Co-Executive Directors of the Literacy Lab, as well as Principal Townes and Ms. Carpenter, Internal Coach, for allowing us to see the great work and success of this organization today!

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