For decades, educators have attempted to bring about significant gains in older students who’ve fallen behind in reading. The problem has become pervasive across the country, with nearly 70% of eighth grade students reading below basic (the lowest rating) on the last National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation’s report card.
The cost of reducing middle and high school teacher/student ratios is prohibitive. Teaching the basic strand of literacy through multiple programs has been ineffective. Student test scores have not improved. The implementation of LANGUAGE! The Comprehensive Literacy Curriculum in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is reversing that trend. The structured approach of LANGUAGE! has resulted in significant student gains in fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing.
“For all students—including minority, at risk, economically disadvantaged, and special education—to achieve at a high level, they need specialized tools to get there,” states Ron Klemp, coordinator of secondary literacy for LAUSD, “but it’s also clear to us that training for teachers is every bit as important.” In fact, LAUSD’s approximately 35,000 “at-risk” students in grades 6?10 may be getting the best of both worlds with LANGUAGE!, a comprehensive literacy curriculum published by Sopris West Educational Services (www.sopriswest.com). Klemp explains that LANGUAGE! “teaches and builds upon the basic elements of literacy development: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, spelling, writing, and reading comprehension. As students master these skills, LANGUAGE! moves them into more complex areas of literacy. They acquire the high-level skills necessary for success in all content areas, such as critical thinking, contextual analysis, and persuasive writing.”
Since LAUSD introduced the curriculum in July 2002, the results have been encouraging. Klemp reports, “In our third year the data show positive gains in grades six and nine in longitudinal testing, and in fluency, word identification, and comprehension.” This curriculum targeted the lowest performing students—those below the 21st percentile of CAT6—at LAUSD’s 80 middle schools and 60 high schools.
Two legislative initiatives dovetailed with and supported the implementation of LANGUAGE! The legislature provided funding to keep the class size down to 25:1 (as opposed to the average 38:1) for students requiring literacy intervention. Equally significant, Klemp says, funding was allocated for extensive instructor training. “When we adopted intervention as our policy,” says Klemp, “LANGUAGE! provided our teachers with a five-day training program that was just the beginning of the 120 hours of overall literacy training they will receive from the district.”
And one size does not fit all. Despite the common instructional needs of students who are failing to keep pace with the expectations of the mainstream classroom, there are distinctions among these learners. LANGUAGE! addresses the common needs of these populations, while mapping out ways to differentiate instruction. Through an efficient and accurate assessment system, teachers are able to align their instruction to meet their students’ diverse and individual needs.
Overall, the power of LANGUAGE! lies in its ability to ensure the success of a diverse student population with a comprehensive and flexible curriculum. “We’re most pleased about the overall expansiveness of the program,” says Klemp. “It presents the instructional content in an engaging manner. LANGUAGE! provides the skills necessary for students to be successful across the curricula. And it works.”
For more information, please contact Sopris West Educational Services at (800) 547-6747 or visit www.sopriswest.com.