Louisiana Needs Literacy Coaches in Every School, Commission Urges
Louisiana should place literacy coaches in every elementary school—and soon—to help the state's students read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade, a skill that's a key predictor of academic success, a legislative commission urged on Wednesday.
A report issued by the Louisiana Early Literacy Commission, which was created last year by the state legislature, outlined 17 steps the state should take to bolster its reading instruction in K-2. It urged the state to take particularly swift action on the reading coaches, training and placing them in all 771 of the state's elementary schools in the 2020-21 school year to "support teachers in teaching the foundations of reading."
Training for those coaches would cover evidence-based reading practices in writing and the five areas of reading instruction that research has shown to be key: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. It would also include strategies for supporting students who are struggling in reading, and discussion of what constitutes a high-quality curriculum, according to the panel's report.
The commission also envisions adding a new cadre of 75 to 150 state-level literacy coordinators, who would arrange training for the reading coaches in the schools. Together, the coaches and coordinators would serve as a resource for the state's primary grade reading teachers.
Teacher-preparation programs are a target of change in the report, too. It notes that at Louisiana colleges and universities, there are no common instructional materials for literacy methods. (This isn't unusual in teacher-prep programs nationwide.) The commission urges the state to "invite" the faculty of its teacher- and administrator-preparation programs to literacy trainings. It also proposes reevaluating its K-5 teacher licensure procedures, presumably for possible revision that includes demonstrating mastery of research-based literacy instruction.
All told, the package of recommendations is projected to cost Louisiana $15 million annually. In a statement, Superintendent John White called the report "just the start of a conversation" about improving reading instruction.
Reading coaches are just one of the areas of focus in the panel's report. In order for students' reading skills to improve, it said, many things have to happen simultaneously. For instance, all teachers must use high-quality curriculum and evidence-based practices to teach the foundations of reading and language literacy, and all struggling students should get research-based interventions. All schools should build a "culture" in which all teachers are "responsible for and equipped to" deliver effective literacy instruction. And teacher-preparation programs must emphasize evidence-based literacy practices.
The report was sent to Louisiana's governor, the two education committees of the state legislature, the two boards that oversee K-12 and higher education. Policies to implement the recommendations would need to be approved by the state boards, and funding would require approval from the legislature.
If Louisiana follows through on the panel's recommendation and hires literacy coaches, it won't be the first state to do so. Alabama officials have said that the reading coaches in that state's longstanding literacy initiative played a key role in improvement students' skills. Alabama also recently announced plans to place math coaches in its schools, after turning in the country's lowest scores in math achievement on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, or NAEP.
The federal Reading First initiative, in the 90s, provided funding that many states used in part for school-based reading coaches. A 2010 study of those states' work concluded that "coaching matters. A positive and significant relationship between coached teachers and student achievement gains appear[s] promising," the study said.
Third grade reading proficiency has long been a priority in states and districts, since it's correlated with school success in middle and high school. Many states have passed laws that require 3rd graders to be held back—or receive intensive intervention—if they can't demonstrate proficiency on reading tests.
Those policies are controversial, but they're not uncommon: Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require retention for students who aren't reading proficiently in 3rd grade, although 14 of them allow for conditional promotion of those students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.