Shoreline ramps up literacy effort

07/03/2019

Shoreline is doubling down on a new approach to reading, hiring a second literacy coach to assist teachers with English and language arts instruction at Tomales and Bodega Bay Elementary Schools this fall. 

“Many of our students were not reading at the levels we want them to, when you define reading as comprehension and making connections,” said Bob Raines, superintendent of Shoreline Unified School District. “We need to improve our instructional strategies, and the best way to do that is with a teacher coach.”

The approach began during the 2016-2017 school year, when Mr. Raines asked for teachers to volunteer to serve on a working group tasked with ensuring that students receive consistent instruction from class to class. The work group decided to focus on literacy because of its foundational value in education.

Between substandard performance on statewide tests and extremely limited data from district-wide tests, teachers realized there were limits to how the district was assessing students. Tests measured fluency, word understanding, phonics and reading speed—not a student’s deeper understanding of a text. “We want kids to be able to get to the ‘why’ and the ‘so what’ of what they are reading,” Mr. Raines explained. 

During the 2017-2018 school year, the district worked with an education consultant, Kelli Leavell, to set a new course. The following year, Shoreline pivoted from testing how smoothly and quickly students were reading to how well students understood the content, using a new method called Fountas and Pinnell, after the professors who invented the system. The assessment technique requires that teachers sit with students individually, taking standardized notes as a student reads aloud, then asking comprehension questions. 

Ashley Dumbra, then a classified employee supporting reading efforts at Shoreline, helped implement the more labor-intensive method. During the 2018-2019 school year, she was moved into the position of certificated literacy coach for West Marin and Inverness Elementary Schools.

“When we started to get better data about where our students actually were, it was pretty evident that that was a necessary area of focus. And she has a lot of skill and resources and knowledge that meet a current need,” said Julie Cassell, a teacher at West Marin and a member of the working group.

Due to Shoreline’s large geographic span, Ms. Dumbra isn’t able to cover the northern elementary schools, so at a June 20 board meeting, the district approved the hire of a counterpart, Katelynn Scott. 

“Reading is a key to everyone’s life,” said Ms. Scott, who has a master’s in education from the University of Kansas and most recently worked in reading intervention at a San Francisco charter school. Ms. Scott will collaborate with Ms. Dumbra to coach teachers on literacy, addressing past inconsistencies across classrooms. 

Ms. Cassell explained. “Our reading curriculum was not very good, so teachers were finding their own resources. But that was a problem because students were getting a really uneven instruction from class to class,” she said. It’s easier for teachers to predict what a student has been exposed to and what they should know when instruction is consistent, she said.

The working group also chose a new math curriculum to maintain steady instruction across classrooms as part of a district-wide alignment effort, Ms. Cassell added.

The literacy coaches will focus on the early grades, because research shows that students who aren’t reading at grade level by third grade have difficulty catching up. But even after third grade, Shoreline will still give students explicit reading instruction—a departure from an older philosophy that students learn to read through third grade, after which they then read to learn. 

Ms. Scott said she is happy to return to familiar ground: in 2017, she worked as a long-term substitute teacher at Tomales Elementary from August to December. “I’m very excited to get started and be back at Tomales,” she said.