Pam Austin has more than 30 years’ experience as an educator. After she rose through the classroom, school, and district levels of New Orleans Public Schools, her role expanded to nationwide instructional training and support as an implementation coordinator for intervention curriculum. This led to a position as senior product marketing manager for Lexia Learning: Voyager Sopris Learning, where she is currently director of product training and instructional technology. Pam considers herself to be a teacher who understands the challenges facing educators today, and a firm believer that “at-risk” students can learn and all teachers can hone their craft to make this happen.
Despite the efforts of the American education system to provide an equal education for all students, achievement gaps between disadvantaged and more advantaged students remain—and often lead to negative outcomes. The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) represents an opportunity for districts to choose intervention solutions that bridge the gap and help all students receive an education that prepares them for future success. In this informative podcast, host Pam Austin will discuss why ESSA-rated solutions are so important in addressing equity gaps and offer strategies for educators to immediately use in the classroom.
During the podcast, we will discuss:
What is ESSA?
Why are ESSA-rated solutions so important?
How can you use ESSA solutions to address equity in the classroom?
What additional strategies can help close the achievement gap?
Pam Austin: Some students need more instruction. They need more support with interventions, and this instruction must be explicit and systematic. You hearing those words again? I've said them quite often, I know, and delivered early with intensity. I know that I'm sounding like a broken record, but equity means that we provide students with the exact quality of instruction that is necessary for growth and learning.
Narrator: Here's our host, Pam Austin.
Pam Austin: This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW 360 podcast series. We are so excited to have you back with us. I'm conducting today's podcast from my native New Orleans, channeling the heart of Voyager Sopris Learning® in Dallas, Texas.
Pam Austin: Today, we are going to do something a little different. We're going to talk about a subject close to my heart: equity in education, and why ESSA-rated solutions are so important in closing learning gaps. I want to begin by channeling Dr. Anita Archer on the meaning of equity versus equality. Equality means that there is quality for all. Think about providing high-quality instruction to all students. As noted by literacy leaders Doug Fisher and Nancy Fry, every student deserves a great teacher—not by chance, but by design. Helping educators grow in their craft so they become that great teacher students deserve and equipping them with proven solutions will set the stage for instructional equality.
Pam Austin: Equity would be ensuring individual student needs are met. Think differentiation. Students come with us with varying skills, so their needs will vary, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. As educators, our goal is to respond to students with the instruction and intervention needed in order to provide equity in education.
Pam Austin: Students may not always get to the exact same place and may not obtain the exact same level of proficiency, but the research is clear. As quoted from Dr. Louisa Moats' 2020 updated report, teaching reading is rocket science. Researchers now estimate that 95% of all children can be taught to read by the end of first grade, with future achievement constrained only by students’ reasoning and listening comprehension abilities. Which leads us to the science of reading.
Pam Austin: Having a deep knowledge and understanding of the signs of reading has proven to be necessary. Why, you might ask? Well, to inform teachers and provide them with the best research on how all students learn to read. This understanding of reading research is also explicitly laid out in IDA's—the International Dyslexia Association—Elements and Principles of Structured Literacy. The elements focus on what needs be taught and the principles detail how reading is taught. Instruction that is systematic and cumulative, explicit, and includes diagnostic teaching.
Pam Austin: I know you hear from me every month as your EDVIEW360 host, but you may not know a lot about me. The first 17 years of my career began in New Orleans, teaching in the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a fourth grade teacher for three years and then in New Orleans public schools for the next 14 as a teacher, reading interventionist, a reading coach, and then a district literacy facilitator before working with Cambium Voyager Sopris Learning for over a decade now. I have over 32 years of experience as an educator. And even though I work now as a director of internal learning and instructional design for Voyager Sopris Learning, like my bio says, "At the core of every educational role, I am a teacher," simple as that.
Pam Austin: Now that we're on the same page with an understanding of equity as ensuring individual student needs are met, just as a doctor would prescribe medicine or provide medical procedures based on need, I'll begin by sharing a little bit [about] why equity in education is important to me. I have worked in supporting schools and districts with varying levels of needs and challenges. These educational institutions may have included students in high-performing or low-performing schools, students in high, medium, or low socioeconomic status. I've worked with students in general education, special education, and with English language learners, as well. One thing that has remained the same is the varying needs of students. Every class or group of students I have taught or supported has shown me that instruction cannot be “one size fits all.” I tried that early in my career and found that I was not reaching all of my students—my Latoyas and my Benjamins, who I spent a great deal of extra time working with, were not getting it. I was teaching, but guess what? They weren't learning. I was not meeting their needs, and I did not understand why until I learned what I didn't know and needed to know, and really needed to deeply understand.
Pam Austin: This is where evidence-based reading instruction came in, now known as the science of reading. This is where I channel Dr. Louisa Moats once again; she has said, "The body of work referred to as the science of reading is not an ideology, a philosophy, a political agenda, a one-size-fits-all approach, a program, or instruction, nor a specific component of instruction." What is it, then?, you might be asking. Well, the science of reading embodies a knowledge base for instruction so that educators understand when and how to move forward when any of their students struggle. I came to realize that my efforts did not provide all of my students with the great teacher they deserved.
Pam Austin: The use of targeted evidence-based strategies that were systematic and cumulative, explicit and diagnostic would have given my students what they needed to obtain equity in education. To set them up for success in life, that's the goal there. I am overjoyed to say that this state of my instructional deficit did not last long. All thanks to an introduction to LETRS® (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) professional development, authored by Dr. Louisa Moats in the enlightenment of evidence-based instruction nearly two decades ago and, since then, co-authored with Dr. Carol Tolman. I now had tools in a backpack of knowledge to ensure that I had a positive impact on my students—all of my students. This understanding opened the door to equality through quality of instruction. I'm going to say that again: This understanding open the door to equality through quality of instruction, leading to equity (giving every student what they needed to learn and grow and have positive outcomes for the future) and to supporting teachers to do the same.
Pam Austin: Let me take a moment now to make an acknowledgment of recent events. During the quarantine, we got to see a different side of student life than we had seen before, regarding equity in a different way. We dealt with students that did not have access to electronic devices or to the internet, students that may not have wanted to show where they live during a live synchronous lesson, students whose home life may have made it difficult to learn, and students that wanted to go to school simply because they wanted to eat. As educators, we have to take all of that into account. It has been a difficult time and I applaud your efforts and want to say to every one of you, thank you.
Pam Austin: Shifting gears back to ESSA, you might ask the question, "How does equity tie to ESSA?" For those of you that may not know a lot about it, ESSA is the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is a law that was signed into effect by President Obama on December 10th, 2015. It replaced No Child Left Behind and is the nation's main education law for all public schools. The law was designed to provide equal opportunity for all students. These students fall into four key groups: students in poverty, minorities, students who receive education services, and those with limited English language skills. Under ESSA, states get to decide the education plans for their schools within a framework provided by the federal government. The plan must include a description of the following. Listen closely: academic standards, annual testing, school accountability, goals for academic achievement, plans for supporting and improving struggling schools, and state and local report cards.
Pam Austin: There are several more requirements for states and school districts, but these are most common for issues that will most directly affect many students with challenges and learning and building the skills necessary for success in life. ESSA also provides funding for literacy programs and other grants that can help students succeed. And it encourages innovation. Innovation, what a wonderful word. Innovation in how schools teach kids. This means your school district may have the money to purchase solutions that are proven and backed by the science of reading and will really help to close those learning gaps. That's what we want for our students anyway. Right?
Pam Austin: Let's talk about some accountability indicators. ESSA requires each state to choose a minimum of five ways to measure school performance. The first four are academic indicators that are mandatory. Listen up: academic achievement, academic progress, English language proficiency, and high school graduation rates. Now you might be asking, "What does that mean for me?" What does it mean for you? As an educator, you may have access to grant money to acquire proven solutions that are backed by the science of reading. Solutions that follow the structured literacy approach and [are] effective for all students. Why are ESSA-rated solution so important? ESSA encourages local and state educational agencies and schools to place a strong emphasis on evidence-based interventions, strategies, or approaches when purchasing and adopting solutions and services. So within the law, evidence-based solutions are described as programs showing evidence of producing positive results on student outcomes. We want to know that it works. Specifically, the type of evidence backed by formal research and studies.
Pam Austin: How are solutions graded by ESSA? They fall into four categories; ESSA defines four tiers of evidence. Tier 1—Strong—is supported by one or more experimental studies. Tier 2—Moderate—is supported by one or more quasi-experimental studies. Tier 3—Promising—is supported by one or more correlational studies. And Tier 4, it demonstrates a rationale; practices that have a logical model, and are supported by the research, and have some effort of study underway to prove that the solution would work.
Pam Austin: How can you use ESSA-rated solutions in the classroom to help with equity? Most children can learn to read when instruction includes evidence-based interventions. Remember the 95% of students who can learn to read? That quote from Dr. Louisa Moats, "The interventions should include assessments that match the academic needs of students"? This is where that quality of instruction plays a role in equality. Some students need more instruction, they need more support with interventions, and this instruction must be explicit and systematic.
Pam Austin: You hearing those words again? I've said them quite often, I know, and delivered early with intensity. I know that I'm sounding like a broken record, but equity means that we provide students with the exact quality of instruction that is necessary for growth and learning. I'll share an example with you. The science-based Voyager Passport® program was built to address diverse learners with reading deficits and provide these students with the skills critical to becoming successful readers. Passport is an ESSA Strong-rated solution, which is the highest tier you can give an intervention program.
Pam Austin: Here's a brief sample of some of the strategies in Passport; I'll model a few for you. I'll start off with a phonological awareness lesson from a Passport Level B—that's first grade—early on in this intervention. Listen as I introduce an activity that will help students practice listening to sounds and repeating them. I'll say a word, you'll repeat the word twice and say the first sound you hear in the word like this: The word is pen. Pen, pen, puh. Very good. The word is shot. Shot, shot, shh. Very good. The word is medicine. Medicine, medicine, mm. So, those are just a few examples of listening to words and isolating that initial sound. That was initial sound segmentation.
Pam Austin: Do we have an example of maybe a phonics lesson? Yes. Here is an introduction in a higher level, Level F. Here is an example from Level F—of fifth grade—early on in this intervention. I'm introducing the letter combination I-G-H. Now, I know you can't see me, but I'll have a visual for my students with that letter combination written on it, maybe with the use of a whiteboard or a classroom board that you have available or, if you're working virtually, you'd have that on a screen for students to see. The sound for this letter combination is igh, as in high. What's the sound for this letter combination? Igh. I would listen and hear all of my students repeat that. I want you to write the letter combination and say the sounds that it makes three times: igh, igh, igh. And what are my students doing? They're writing the letter combination I-G-H, they are imprinting that letter pattern inside their brains. Those are just a few examples of some of the strategies that are taught in Passport.
Pam Austin: Here's an example of another strategy used in Passport. We do go beyond phonological awareness and phonics; here's an introduction of vocabulary words. Listen: The first thing the teacher would do is to write the vocabulary words so students have a visual of the words that are going to be introduced. Before we read, let's learn the meaning of some words that are important in the poem. What genre are we working on? Porridging, that's right. The first word is descends. What word? Descends means to move down. The bird descends from the tree to catch the worm.
Pam Austin: The next word is height. What word? Height is how high or tall something is. The height of the mountain was 6,700 feet. So, you get an example of that introduction. We're not asking students what the word means, we're telling them with a student-friendly definition and the use of that word in context. And of course, then we apply that new knowledge into reading a poem. These are just a few examples of some of the strategies that are used in Passport curriculum.
Pam Austin: For all of you looking for an adolescent reading solution, there's LANGUAGE!. LANGUAGE! is a comprehensive and cohesive literacy curriculum. Let me tell you a little bit about it: It was designed for older students. It's to teach them literacy skills—you know, those skills that are essential for students in everyday life. Their job is going to school, right? And they are adding on that knowledge on a regular basis.
Pam Austin: LANGUAGE! also has an ESSA Strong rating and incorporates essential content from all domains of language and provides instruction necessary for literacy proficiency. That's what we want. We want our students to be proficient. What are they learning? Well, phonology for one. Word analysis for reading and spelling, because readers are spellers and spellers are readers. Mouth-ology and vocabulary. Those are connected, those smallest meaning parts. And vocabulary and understanding of words, both receptive and expressive vocabulary. There's grammar, studying syntax and word usage, receptive language, listening and reading comprehension, and expressive language (speaking and writing). Each lesson guides students from sound to text using a systematic cumulative approach. Each unit theme has high-interest content that's a mirror and a window for students as they build literacy skills. A mirror so they can see themselves reflected, and a window so they can see outside of their world and understand how other people live and think.
Pam Austin: You may be in a process of purchasing an ESSA-rated solution for your classroom, and you might not have access to one yet. So, what can you do? If you're an administrator, what can you do to make a decision on choosing an ESSA Strong solution?
Pam Austin: Number one, understanding the definition of “evidence-based” and ESSA ratings. This evidence-based approach encourages state and district leaders to consider multiple tiers of evidence and to examine a strength of evidence connected to solutions. What we need to do is to provide equality of instruction by providing the most effective solution that supports and develops the skill of a great teacher. Review the ratings and the research evidence connected to the ratings. Remember, ESSA defines four tiers of evidence: Tier 1—Strong, supported by one or more experimental studies; Tier 2—Moderate, supported by one or more quasi-experimental studies; Tier 3—Promising, supported by one or more correlational studies; or Tier 4, demonstrates a rationale, practices that have a logical model and are supported by research and have some effort of study underway.
Pam Austin: Reach out to the educational publishers. Request white papers and third-party research that supports evidence-based instruction. Request data from similar districts that have used the solutions you're interested in implementing. There are some additional sites that may be especially helpful to teachers teaching remotely. These are free resources such as Screencast-O-Matic, whiteboard.fi, kids recorder, flippity.net, Answer Gordon, and ChatterPix Kids, to name a few. You can find 2-minute videos describing these resources on www.voyagersopris.com/techno-bytes, spelled T-E-C-H-N-O-B-Y-T-E-S. Educators can also find a compilation of resources on the University of Florida's Literacy Institute site, education.ufl.edu. For more information on ESSA, visit www.ed.gov/ESSA. And now I get to answer the question I've been dying to answer since we started.
Pam Austin: If I could wave a magic wand and change anything in the world of education, I would ensure that every teacher has a gift of deep knowledge of literacy and language so that they become practitioners of prescriptive and diagnostic reading instruction, providing high-quality instruction that results in equity for every student so that each will receive the instruction he or she needs. Thank you for joining us today. It's been a pleasure being on the other side. To learn more about LANGUAGE!, Passport, and Reading Rangers, visit www.voyagersopris.com. Also, make sure you're following us on social media. This is Pam Austin, bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.
Narrator: This has been an EDVIEW360 podcast produced by Voyager Sopris Learning. For additional thought-provoking discussions, sign up for our blog webinars and podcast series at voyagersopris.com/podcast. If you enjoyed the show, we'd love a five star review wherever you listen to podcasts, and to help other people like you find our show. Thank you.
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