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North Adams Schools Developing Districtwide Literacy Approach
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
03:59PM / Saturday, March 18, 2023
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The school district is working on data-driven literacy efforts to create proficient readers.
"Literacy is critical to the academic achievement of all of our students, and it's a key factor in determining the success of our students," Kimberlee Chappell told the School Committee last week. "That's why literacy and equity are inextricably linked. If you can't read or write then you can't access anything. We live in the age of information, it is required that we have the skills to be able to read and write."
Not being able to read and write can make life much more difficult, she said.
Chappell, the district's literacy and Title 1 grant coordinator, said the schools are using the approach of gathering current data and then collaborating as a team to develop strategies to support students. 
The Nation's Report Card, part of the National Assessment of Educational Process, says only 65 percent of fourth-graders are capable of reading at or above a basic level. Massachusetts tracks slightly higher on average but North Adams is at roughly 50 percent. 
The schools are working within the Next Generation Science Standards of inquiry, which uses assessments to create evidence-based instruction that is aligned to state standards. The three-tiered design focuses on universal support, targeted support and intensive support.
"Each year we administer universal screeners in fall, winter and then again in spring to help us determine how to develop instruction that we will need," she said. Once we've collected the results ... We collaborate as a team on strategies that can help us maximize student growth. 
Teachers and leaders from across the district will be brought together to begin the process of developing a literacy plan that is cohesive throughout the district. Chappell said the school district is partnering on a four-part survey with Hill for Literacy, which provides training, professional development and data implementation. 
She said the results of the needs assessment will be shared with the educational team and then with the broader community later this month.
School Committee member Richard Alcombright asked what three things parents can do to support literacy efforts at home. Chappell said it depends on the grade but that the basics are reading to children, teaching them letter names and sounds, and how to put letters together to make words and build on sentences.
And just conversations and narratives, she said, can help in developing vocabulary.
"In the information age, I feel that there may be a lack of that when we're talking about interaction, human interaction," Chappell said. "The best thing you can do is talk about what's going on in your life. If you're boiling a pot of water, talk about putting the noodles in the boiling water and then use the language that goes along with it."
Superintendent Barbara Malkas said the schools are seeing some results from these efforts and noted that North Adams has the highest rate of prekindergarten participation in the county. 
"That early childhood experience can be very, very valuable to students," said Malkas. And while some parents may prefer to wait until kindergarten, "there are things that parents can do as well to start to develop those early literacy skills."
"Research shows us is that with the right instruction, 95 percent of students who have reading difficulties will become proficient readers and writers and as public educators it is our moral imperative to make sure that we have that goal," Chappell said. 
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