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A joint District 65/202 summer literacy program heading into its third year has seen strong improvement in student reading levels, in both the 2019 in-person sessions and the 2020 remote-instruction ones.

At the Feb. 22 Joint School Board meeting, Scott Bramley, Associate Principal of Literacy & Instruction at Evanston Township High School, and Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at District 65, gave the highlights of Summer Lift. Students in this one-on-one literacy program have improved their reading levels, some by as much as two grade-levels, over the course of a summer. The program serves a range of students from rising second-graders to rising seniors.

Summer Lift, said Dr. Bramley, is a student-focused intervention with one-on-one teaching, “geared towards specific literacy, instructional needs of students.” The individualized curricula are based around the assessments gathered during the year about their levels of speed, word accuracy, and comprehension.

Kiwana Brown, Director of Academic Supports at ETHS, said the purpose of the program is “to address the need areas and build student proficiency in those areas so that students are eventually able to perform grade-level tasks that satisfy Illinois Learning Standards.”

 In 2019, 28 students – 14 from each District – participated in the program, which ran for 11 consecutive Saturdays. The average grade-level growth in in 2019 for District 65 students  was 2.02 grade levels, and the average level of growth for ETHS students was 2.7 grades, Dr. Bramley said.

The following year, because of the pandemic, the learning was remote, and instruction was offered on 15 consecutive school days. Thirty students participated.  In District 65 the average growth was 1.8 grade levels, and at ETHS, the average growth was 1.8 grade levels, Dr. Bramley said. Nine of those students from District 65 and three from ETHS had participated in Summer Lift the year before, Dr. Brown said.

This achievement during the pandemic, Dr. Bramley said, “really speaks to the strength of the program and the design of the intervention being so individualized in 2020, because it was remote. … Students worked with an interventionist each day for approximately an hour for 15 straight days of school days.”

Dr. Bramley also said, “The intervention program is modeled after a research-based literacy lab program that is housed that Northeastern Illinois University with whom we have a great partnership. … We provide the research-based assessment intervention reports to families.

“If you think about students who are reading multiple grade levels behind – striving readers – to be able to increase your reading stamina is a great end product of the intervention. And as that continues to grow and grow, you know, students being able to show more success with reading, and with their literacy-based activities.”

He said students’ comments show they have “a sense of belonging and they feel that they are treated well and cared for in the program. And as we all know, when you’re cared for, and you see yourself and  you feel seen, and it’s a comfortable environment where the educator shows care and concern, you can grow and develop and have great success. And so again, this program is a testament to that.”

Dr.  Brown told the RoundTable that after the Summer Lift program, “Students continued to show increased motivation in reading and also growth in overall comprehension as evidenced through the diagnostic assessments. Ten of the ETHS students continued [to maintain the reading level] in the fall from summer, and nine of those have continued to show measurable growth.” 

She also said that so far ETHS has tracked only the high school students who continued through the Literacy Lab but, if parental permission from the District 65 parents is obtained, the progress of those students would be tracked as well.

Dr. Beardsley said teachers in the two districts shared information and ideas. In addition, she said, Northern Illinois University “allowed the practicum work when our teachers are working towards reading specialist or reading teacher endorsements.” She also said Foundation 65 and other community partners had provided funding for the program.

District 202 Board member Gretchen Livingston asked Dr. Beardsley and Dr. Brown to connect the Summer Lift program with the Joint Literacy Goal.

Dr. Bramley said, “The ultimate goal of Summer Lift was and continues to be connected to that larger goal of trying to have all of our students read at grade level. And so when we look to identify students who participate, we’re looking to invite students who we have already identified as heading down that progression – early warning signs of showing that they might be not reading at grade level, early on.”  

Ms. Livingston said the Summer Lift program “is something we would prefer to scale up if we could, and we had the funding. …  I would imagine dependent on funding, and not so much the fact that there’s the need. We have the need. There are more kids who could benefit. So we need to expand the funding.”