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News from April 2017

Write for Texas publishes report showcasing success stories
April 24, 2017

Since 2014, Write for Texas has promoted and supported improved academic writing instruction in the secondary grades through a cadre of regionally based instructional coaches and an extensive collection of online resources available at no cost to all educators.

Instructional coaches employed by the 27 regional project sites work with a variety of educators in grades 6 through 12 to provide opportunities for students to read, write, and discuss a variety of genres throughout the school year. From developing workshops for administrators and teachers to modeling lessons in classrooms, the coaches improve the instructional landscape in participating schools and districts.

Success Stories From a Literacy Initiative showcases one successful aspect of Write for Texas work at each site, helping to illustrate the breadth and depth of work happening locally and statewide. These snapshots are meant not only to document and recognize the work of these Write for Texas sites, but also to inform and inspire other educators to adopt similar practices.

The site snapshots are organized into the following sections, which begin with introductions containing general advice or tips for educators:

  • Focus on Classroom Coaching
  • Spotlight on District and Administrator Support
  • Think Big to Reach Groups of Teachers

Write for Texas 

News from March 2017

New resource: National Center on Improving Literacy launches website
March 30, 2017

The National Center on Improving Literacy, a partnership including longtime MCPER collaborators at Florida State University and the University of Oregon, has launched a new website. "The center is funded to provide technical assistance to families to improve literacy outcomes for children in pre-K through grade 12 with (or at risk of) literacy-related disabilities, including dyslexia," according to an announcement. The website includes resources for families, schools, communities, and states.

MCPER and Boston University seek applications for postdoctoral researcher
March 29, 2017

MCPER and the School of Education at Boston University are seeking applications for a postdoctoral researcher to work on a multisite research grant under the mentorship of MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and Boston University associate professor Amie Grills. 

The 5-year, multisite randomized clinical trial is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The project will evaluate the innovative integration of evidence-based practices for reducing anxiety and improving reading among middle grade students who struggle with reading. Students in grades 4–5 will be included in this study, which will take place in elementary schools in the Austin, Texas, and Boston, Massachusetts, areas.

The selected Fellow will be located at the Boston University site and will have a leadership role on this project, assuming responsibilities that may include: (a) assisting in general project oversight, management, and site recruitment; (b) supervising data collection, management, and implementation; (c) applying methodological and data analytic approaches in addressing research questions; and (d) collaborating on research presentations, publications, and practice and policy reports. The establishment of unique and independent strands of research culminating in the solicitation of future grant funding will be encouraged. In addition, the Fellow will receive (a) mentored professional development, independent writing, and grant development; (b) immersion in large-scale research drawing from multiple disciplines (e.g., clinical psychology, special education); (c) didactic research training; and (d) tailored professional development geared toward the Fellow’s career aspirations (e.g., teaching, university leadership experience). The initial appointment will be for 2 years, with the potential for subsequent reappointment or promotion. 

Qualified applicants will have obtained a degree in a social science field with a focus on developmental science (e.g., clinical psychology, educational psychology, special education, child development/family studies) by the start of the position. Those with a demonstrated publication record or excellent writing ability and a background in clinical child psychology, reading disabilities, and/or school-based intervention delivery are strongly encouraged to apply. Experience with project management and quantitative statistical methods is a plus.

Application materials should be submitted electronically to Dr. Amie E. Grills at agrills@bu.edu. Please send (1) a cover letter that briefly summarizes qualifications, research experience, and career goals; (2) a complete curriculum vitae; (3) one or two publications or writing samples; and (4) two letters of recommendation (at least one from a faculty advisor or mentor). Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled.

News from February 2017

MCPER receives $2 million award from Meadows Foundation
February 17, 2017

The Meadows Foundation recently awarded $2 million to MCPER, completing its $4 million funding commitment. For a full story on the award—including quotes from MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn, Bruce Esterline of the Meadows Foundation, and College of Education Dean Manuel Justiz—visit the College of Education website.

News from November 2016

Television news feature on Write for Texas project highlights student gains
November 22, 2016

In an education segment on ABC News 7 Amarillo, Write for Texas participants described the positive impact the project has had on their students' writing.

Andrea DeCarlo, a teacher at Dumas High School; Nikole Foote, an instructional coach at Dumas; and Cassie Swan, program contact at Education Service Center Region 16, reported that students are less afraid to put their ideas into written form—a common issue in the past. “We are seeing kids actually put their thought process into writing now in math, science, and social studies—not just English,” Foote said.

Swan added that writing in all subject areas and using supports like sentence stems and other techniques promoted by Write for Texas are all part of an effort to “make sure all of our kids write for life.”

View the video and read the accompanying article on the ABC News 7 website.

Write for Texas 

Project STRIVE making an impact on Texas teachers and students
November 2, 2016

MCPER’s Strategies for Reading Information and Vocabulary Effectively (STRIVE) project is collaborating with school districts in Central and South Texas to provide professional development and research-based instructional materials to fourth-grade teachers.

Over the course of the large-scale, 3-year research study, more than 200 fourth-grade teachers from more than 80 schools will receive training on practices to improve reading and social studies knowledge, reaching more than 5,000 students.

To date, fourth-grade teachers from 25 elementary schools have attended interactive training on the STRIVE lessons in preparation for implementing the practices in their classrooms this year. Anchored to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the STRIVE lessons incorporate evidence-based reading practices targeting reading comprehension, vocabulary, and social studies content knowledge. In addition to the initial training, STRIVE teachers participate in several follow-up study team meetings to reflect on and discuss instructional practices.

Teachers are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. "I am already seeing positive changes in my students," said Emi Anderson, a fourth-grade teacher at Hirsch Elementary School in San Antonio. “The program has improved their ability to share and constructively question their classmates' ideas. My students are using the STRIVE reading and collaborative learning skills in other subjects, too."

Building on a prior Institute of Education Sciences Goal 2 intervention development grant, MCPER researchers will measure and compare the effects of STRIVE relative to a control condition to examine the efficacy of the professional development. The large number of students participating provides strong statistical power and reliability.

In the meantime, those involved with the program suggest that STRIVE is having a positive impact. "There is really a positive buzz about STRIVE in San Antonio ISD,” said District Administrator Ramses Escobedo. “The teachers participating in the project have said it is going well, and additional schools have asked to participate in STRIVE next year."

For more information, visit the STRIVE project page.

Tags: Reading Institute  Strategies for Reading Information and Vocabulary Effectively (STRIVE) 

Texas Literacy Initiative partner district Nixon-Smiley finds success
November 1, 2016

The Nixon-Smiley school district was highly successful in meeting goals set in 2012 as part of its partnership with the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI), according to the district's fourth and final initiative report.

“Leadership across the district have worked together to implement all facets of the initiative to ensure that the goals were met and that STAAR test scores increased across the board since 2012,” said Texas Literacy Initiative State Literacy Liaison Michelle Lambert-Yuhasz.

The only goal that was not entirely met pertained to increasing the percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency on STAAR English language arts assessments in grades 3 through 12. However, students improved greatly over the 4-year period, meeting four of the five goals in this reporting period compared to just one of five in the first reporting period.   

The five TLI goals are (1) to increase oral language and preliteracy skills of preschool children; (2) to increase the performance of students in kindergarten through grade 2 on early reading assessments; (3) to increase the percentage of students who meet or exceed proficiency on STAAR tests in grades 3 through 12; (4) to increase the use of data and data analysis to inform all decision-making across the district, in campuses, in classrooms, and in early learning settings; and (5) to increase the implementation of effective literacy instruction through literacy lines.   

Campus administrators were pleased with the initiative’s transformative effects, according to the report, and highlighted a number positive changes, including (1) data sharing to inform instruction and identify student needs, (2) integration of assessment data into the district's response to intervention system, and (3) promotion of professional relationships between district staff and instructional personnel to increase academic outcomes.

“The administration at the campus levels have backed the initiative saying that this will be an expectation for our students to be producing writing pieces in all content areas," according to a particiapant quoted in the report. "It is not only a tested skill, but also a lifelong skill for jobs, and college. The administration has been very supportive in backing that plan and setting those expectations for teachers that they are all on board with helping facilitate writing in all classrooms.”

Goal Outcomes Met in Each Reporting Period

  Period 1 Period 2 Period 3 Period 4
Goal 1: Preliteracy Skills yes yes yes yes
Goal 2: K–2 Fluency Skills yes yes yes yes
Goal 3: STAAR Performance: Reading (Grades 3 to 8)     yes yes
             STAAR Performance: Writing (Grades 4 and 7) yes yes yes yes
             STAAR Performance: English I Reading       yes
             STAAR Performance: English I Writing   yes yes yes
             STAAR Performance: English II Reading        
Goal 4: Data Analysis   yes yes yes
Goal 5: Effective Literacy Instruction via Literacy Lines yes     yes

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative 

News from October 2016

Annual report details Write for Texas project’s expanding reach and impact
October 28, 2016

Findings reported in the 2015–2016 Write for Texas Annual Report illustrate the rapid growth and positive impact of the program across the state. 

The report synthesizes data from a wide range of sources, including Write for Texas coach and site staff reflections, field-based activity reports, and teacher and administrator survey responses from schools that Write for Texas supports. Data indicate impressive project outcomes, with 83% of respondents reporting improvement in student reading and writing skills and 82% seeing increased student engagement.  

In addition to profiling the unique structure and components of Write for Texas, the report presents information on the schools (more than 200 schools in more than 100 districts) and educators supported by the project. Highlights include frequency measures of classroom teaching routines and anecdotal evidence showing the positive influence Write for Texas coaches and materials have on staff development to improve academic reading and writing instruction in the secondary grades.  

Now entering its third year, the program continues to grow its coaching cadre and designate more Write for Texas districts and schools seeking to develop teachers and students using instructional best practices. 

For more information, download the 2015–2016 Write for Texas Annual Report or visit the Write for Texas website

Write for Texas 

“Making Middle School Matter” Symposium set for January 2018 in Austin
October 26, 2016

The Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP) will host the second annual “Making Middle School Matter” Symposium from January 21 to 23, 2018, in Austin for middle grade administrators and educators. The symposium will once again feature speakers and content from the Middle School Matters Institute and other middle grade organizations.  

Much like past Middle School Matters Institute conferences, this symposium will focus on research-based practices and strategies to implement in the classroom. Attendees should expect a series of keynotes, workshops, and time set aside for networking and planning.

“We are very pleased to continue our partnership with TASSP,” said Christy Murray, director of the Middle School Matters Institute. “Our goal is to provide the highest-quality professional development so middle grade educators can learn what works, instructionally and otherwise, in 21st century middle schools.”

Featured topics will include dropout prevention and the use of early warning indicator data; improving reading and writing throughout the content areas; positive student behavior supports; research-based mathematics practices; and measuring, monitoring, and managing important data.

Registration information for the symposium is forthcoming. For more information and to receive e-mail alerts about the symposium, visit the Middle School Matters Institute website.

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

Mini-lessons, research briefs to support struggling students are now available online
October 24, 2016

The Targeting the 2 Percent project has developed two series of resources to develop educators’ instructional effectiveness with students with learning disabilities and difficulties.

The project created a set of mini-lessons structured around the five essential components of reading instruction that can be used with students in kindergarten to grade 5 whose data show a need in a specific component.

Also, professors and researchers in the field wrote 11 research briefs to support evidence-based instructional practices. Topics include the five essential components of reading, grouping practices, peer supports, instructional considerations for dyslexia, English language learners, and literacy instruction for students with autism.

For more information and to download the mini-lessons and research briefs, which were developed with the support of the Texas Education Agency, visit the Targeting the 2 Percent project page.

Tags: Reading Institute  Targeting the 2 Percent