Blog Series

What Happened in Alabama? Teacher Reading Knowledge and Student Readiness After LETRS

by Barbara Cooper on June 3, 2020

  • Alabama
  • Reading Science
Barbara Cooper

Ensuring every child learns to read is a worthy cause and we should use any platform available to make reading a reality for every student. Lacking the ability to read well has lasting impacts on children. Teachers are essential components for addressing reading challenges, but they must receive the support they need to successfully teach every student to read well. When our teachers know better, they will do better.

Alabama is becoming more committed to supporting all children in becoming proficient readers by fourth grade. We are at a critical point in history with less than 70 percent of fourth grade students testing proficient in reading during the most recent administration of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test. This statistic requires a collective effort that entails all educators and the entire community to respond with urgency. Children, regardless of their demography must be provided every opportunity to learn to read well and this begins with a high-quality, well-prepared teacher.

In 2018, Alabama provided a professional learning opportunity for teachers of preK–3 students to learn about the science of reading. The response to the blended course of face-to-face training and online modules was overwhelmingly positive and well received. After just one face-to-face training, teachers openly expressed this new knowledge was vital to their success in reaching struggling readers. Teachers acknowledged they wanted quality professional learning that would help them to better teach their children by understanding the what, why, and how of the science of reading in teaching early literacy skills. Funds were invested in the pilot early literacy initiative LETRS® (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) training. This initiative is a joint collaborative partnership with the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education and the Alabama State Department of Education. Both have been committed to supporting further implementation of the pilot.

The LETRS initiative has been overwhelmingly, positively received by the initial 283 educators who were accepted into the voluntary LETRS training. This one-time investment will pay dividends in the sheer number of students a teacher will impact throughout their career, in Alabama’s classrooms, school systems, and communities. Due to the success of LETRS and the large numbers of teachers added to the waitlist, funds were allocated to train an additional 3,500 educators. Alabama recognized the need to build capacity and trained facilitators of LETRS to support offering the learning opportunity to interested preK–3 teachers statewide.

Alabama educators are committed to supporting teachers with the tools necessary to teach every student basic literacy skills to be successful in school. The LETRS comprehensive training provides these teachers a deeper understanding of the science of reading and evidence-based strategies necessary to support all students, especially those who experience language and reading challenges. The science of reading knowledge must become a critical component in the teacher’s instructional toolbox of reading strategies. This level of knowledge is not always explicitly provided in early learning preservice coursework.

LETRS is not a curriculum nor canned approach to teaching reading. Instead, LETRS focuses on the science of reading and supports teachers in diagnosing reading issues, prescribing a strategy, and assessing the effectiveness of the instruction provided to support the student. This course equips teachers with the literacy skills essential for academic success.

Taken together, research findings from multiyear early education interventions suggest that the components of a comprehensive preK–3 approach to teaching can combine to make a positive contribution to young children’s learning, while providing the pathways through which more children will achieve success by the end of third grade. Alabama knows science of reading training offers an opportunity for state leaders and educators alike to comprehensively address the reading crisis and low performance of Alabama’s students. 

The ability to read opens doors and promises our students a lifetime of freedom and choice. Children should be provided early learning experiences that foster creativity while stimulating their social emotional, language, physical, and cognitive development. Teaching every child to read increases their chances of achieving the American dream. This dream is more attainable through an education that ensures every child is taught to read well by fourth grade. Teachers are empowered to plan and provide high-quality literacy lessons when they have the knowledge of the science of reading.

Data from initial findings of Cohort 1 PreK teachers who participated in the LETRS for Early Childhood Educators Module.
Read the Full Report

Key Findings

  • Significant growth in participant knowledge
    • Participant Information: (LETRS Gradebook)
  • A total of 109 participants completed the course.
    • 40 were preK lead teachers, preK auxiliary teachers, preschool special educators, and kindergarten teachers
    • 69 were other participants, including coaches, principals, and administrators
    • Participant Knowledge Change: (LETRS pre-/post-test)
  • Almost all participants (97.2 percent) showed growth in knowledge from the pre- to post-test.
  • There was an average of 29 percentage points growth across all participants.
  • Improved Teacher-Child Interactions and Classroom Quality
    • Teacher-Child Interactions and Classroom Quality: (CLASS-Classroom Assessment Scoring System)
  • LETRS classrooms exceeded the performance of both the national comparison sample and the average of all First Class PreK classrooms across all three domains and 10 dimensions of the assessment (indicating better quality of teacher-child interactions).
  • The largest differences were observed between LETRS classrooms and the national sample for the Instructional Support domain, including the critical dimension of Concept Development.
  • Significant growth in meeting developmental expectations and kindergarten readiness
    • Child Outcomes: (Teaching Strategies GOLD)
  • Children in LETRS classrooms started lower, but finished higher and had larger percentage point growth compared to children in no-LETRS classrooms.
  • Percentages of children in LETRS classrooms who were kindergarten ready at spring 2019 were higher compared to no-LETRS classrooms.

Dr. Barbara Jean Cooper currently works at the Alabama Department of Early Childhood as the director of the office of School Readiness. She leads the First Class Pre-K Program that has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for 14 consecutive years. In 2018, Dr. Cooper was appointed as the Birth through Grade 12 Education Advisor for the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation. In this capacity, Dr. Cooper supports Governor Kay Ivey’s Strong Start, Strong Finish education initiatives.


Click here to register for Alabama LETRS Cohort 3

Learn about LETRS

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