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North Carolina teachers finish science of reading training 

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During the 2021-22 school year, North Carolina public schools officially started implementing the science in reading — training the first cohort of districts and teachers in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS).

As of this month, the third and final cohort of teachers have successfully completed LETRS training, totaling more than 44,000 K-5 educators.

“To say that I’m proud of these over 44,000 educators would be an understatement,” state Superintendent Catherine Truitt said in a release from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). “Over the past two years, they have been diligent in LETRS® professional development, and the result is improved outcomes for not only their current students, but the future of our state. We know how critical literacy is to student success, and I’m thankful for the passion and commitment of North Carolina educators to help our students achieve their goals.”

State lawmakers have allocated more than $114 million to provide LETRS training to NC Pre-K instructors, elementary teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators.

Awaiting the final 2023-24 end-of-year data, overall trends have evidenced positive gains on the DIBELS 8 assessment. From the beginning of the 2021-22 school year to the middle of 2023-24, there are 69,732 fewer students below benchmark and more than 245,680 students at or above benchmark per the DIBELS 8 assessment. Moreover, subgroup data shows 18% gains for Asian, Hispanic, African American and American Indian students in kindergarten through grade 3.

DPI press release

Officials from DPI previously said it is likely that the state will fully know results from these efforts when the first class of kindergarteners taught with the science of reading reaches third grade.

However, DPI said in its release that “elementary students have made strides in literacy growth due to the instructional shift and alignment to professional development in the science of reading by North Carolina educators.”

According to the release, the LETRS professional development will improve “literacy outcome potential for over 770,000 elementary students across North Carolina.”

More on science of reading, literacy

In 2021, North Carolina lawmakers updated the Excellent Public Schools Act to emphasize the use of the science of reading to ensure students in elementary schools can read on grade level by grade three.

LETRS training covers 160 hours of study across eight units and takes two years to complete.

LETRS isn’t a program or curriculum. It’s training that shows teachers what students need to learn in order to read and write — and it walks through a scope and sequence in which students should learn these things. It covers the primary domains of literacy acquisition — like oral language, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, writing, and spelling. And, yes, it talks about the importance of explicit phonics instruction. 

Excerpt from an April 2023 article by EdNC on science of reading implementation

When LETRS rollout started, there was some initial pushback from teachers. Not all districts have provided stipends for teachers who complete the training.

“I think the resistance was not because teachers didn’t appreciate it, or that teachers didn’t believe in what the science of reading is offering for us,” Lynn Plummer, former director of elementary education in Stanly County Schools, told EdNC in April 2023. “I think the resistance just comes from the time constraint and putting my whole heart into this job and working eight, 10, 12 hours a day, but then I’ve also got to find time outside of my school day to complete this additional training.”

While LETRS training involved a large time commitment, educators and administrators previously told EdNC that teachers quickly saw the impact in their classrooms.

“…I’ve been surprised to already be hearing teachers and school principals starting to talk about how they’re seeing shifts in classroom practice,” Melissa Hedt, Asheville City Schools’ deputy superintendent of accountability and instruction, previously told EdNC.

According to a recent report from national education nonprofit Bellwether, the successful implementation of the science of reading requires paying attention to teacher preparation and licensure, assessment and accountability, and classroom practices and high-quality curriculum.

In North Carolina, DPI does not set required materials for districts. However, DPI has created literacy instruction standards for pre-K through 12th grade to help with selecting curriculum.

In December 2022, districts were required to “complete a form regarding the measures taken by each (district) to implement the requirements regarding the Literacy Instruction Standards (LIS) and literacy implementation plan,” according to DPI’s website.

That modified curriculum and instruction must be in place beginning with the 2024-2025 school year.

As of September, DPI had also hired 100 out of 115 literacy specialists to work with each district.

According to DPI’s press release, the department is also working to address future teacher preparation in North Carolina.

DPI’s Office of Early Learning recently hosted its inaugural Collaborative Educator Preparation Program (EPP) Science of Reading Summit, which included public and private EPPs across the state.

The summit convened postsecondary leaders from more than 30 North Carolina institutions, per DPI, and included information about LETRS training, early literacy specialists, and science of reading alignment tools. The goal was “to help develop and implement aligned processes and resources to increase support for teacher candidates before they enter the classroom,” the release said.

“This collaborative summit provides EPPs a variety of resources and strategies to equip future teachers with tools aligned to the science of reading,” Amy Rhyne, senior director of the Office of Early Learning, said in the release. “As a result of the Collaborative EPP Science of Reading Summit, we hope EPPs take the tools and resources from this week to better equip future educators for a seamless transition to leading their classroom in the science of reading when they walk in the door.”

This short session, DPI is also requesting funding from the General Assembly to expand literacy support for fourth to eighth grade students. The department is also requesting funds to expand professional development platform Lexia Aspire for all content educators in grades six through eight.

In September, Truitt wrote in an EdNC perspective that as the work to implement the science of reading continues, she is inspired by the progress made so far.

“The future is brightest for students in our state who are confident, capable readers,” she said. “Because of the hard work underway, and the systems and processes in place to sustain the momentum, I am positive that we will continue improving literacy outcomes for all students in our state.”

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.