ESSER Funds: Invest in Programs Based on the Science of Reading
Due to the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on early education, the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund was enacted on March 11, 2021. This plan provides $122.7 billion in supplemental federal funding for school districts to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools following the pandemic. These funds must be used by September 30, 2024, with 20% required to be allocated to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions that support students’ academic and emotional learning (SEL) needs.
Reports have shown the pandemic has caused significant levels of learning loss in reading and mathematics for all students. Along with this, Emergent Bilinguals (also known as English Learners) and historically underserved students have been especially impacted by this gap in schooling. Now is the time to use ARP ESSER federal funding to support students by providing them with evidence-based programs to help them get back on track.
Using ARP ESSER Funds to Invest in Evidence-Based Literacy Interventions
The U.S. Department of Education states that 20% of district funds must be reserved to “address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions and ensure that those interventions respond to students’ social, emotional, and academic needs.” One important factor to consider when looking into literacy programs is whether or not they are based on science of reading research.
The science of reading (SoR) is an evidence-proven method of teaching reading that helps students of all abilities achieve literacy. For more than five decades, researchers have been studying the science of reading and have deemed it an incredibly effective literacy instruction method. Programs based on the science of reading and have been backed by evidence are eligible for ARP ESSER funds. Along with that, these funds can be used on a multitude of other things to help close the learning gap, such as:
- Professional development
- Identifying and addressing interrupted learning (through SoR programs)
- Summer learning/enrichment/after-school/extended day
- Supporting diverse student populations
- Hybrid and remote teaching
- Education technology
Students have a better chance of finding success with literacy when they are guided by programs based on the science of reading, which is backed by decades worth of gold-standard research.
Why the Science of Reading is the Best Way to Accelerate Learning in Literacy
There are a variety of other literacy instruction methods out there, with balanced literacy being one of the most popular. While balanced literacy tends to be favored for the freedom it offers teachers, it is not the most effective way of teaching students how to read and it is not an evidence-based approach that can be funded with ARP ESSER. On the other hand, programs based on science of reading research are incredibly effective for all types of readers including English Language Learners and students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
How do you know if a Program is Evidence-Based?
When programs are referred to as “evidence-based,” it means there have been controlled studies done to test the impact of the program, and those studies have shown skill growth in students in the program in comparison to students who were not. It can be complicated to determine if a program is truly evidence-based, but a good starting point to find out if a program qualifies for ARP ESSER funding is to look at its ESSA rating.
What is an ESSA Rating?
ESSA ratings provide guidance to help you evaluate the quality of a research study, so you can confidently choose a program that is backed by evidence and understand the quality of research that went into the program. The ESSA has four tiers of evidence: Strong, Moderate, Promising, and Demonstrates a Rationale. An easy way to determine the ESSA rating of a program you are evaluating is to search for it on the IES WWC website.
What Qualifies as Evidence, and What makes that Evidence Effective?
According to the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), evidence-based practices (including activities, strategies, and interventions) are “‘derived from or informed by objective evidence—most commonly, educational research or metrics of school, teacher, and student performance.” The main indicator for evidence-based programs or interventions is clear evidence of impact based on extensive research, and generally, these programs must fall under one of the four tiers of evidence outlined by the ESSA.
Instruction, curriculum, programs, and professional learning based on the science of reading have been proven to help students succeed in reading, and typically have an ESSA rating. Educators should evaluate programs by examining how the science of reading is incorporated: Does the program cover each of the evidence-based skills students need to read proficiently (i.e. phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, literacy, and comprehension)? Has the program been proven through research to work with students like mine (e.g. low-income, dyslexic, etc.)? In asking these types of questions, educators can determine what evidence-based programs will be the most effective for their students.
One example of strong evidence to back up a reading program is this study done on Lexia® Core5® Reading. This study shows 80% of students who were in this program did not experience learning loss during the pandemic, and 40% of students in the program exceeded growth targets (aka exemplified accelerated learning).
Science of Reading-Based Literacy Programs Empower Educators and Students Alike
Districts can invest ARP ESSER funds into programs that directly support their students, but they can also use these funds in teacher training programs. Teachers are the most essential factor when it comes to teaching students how to read, but oftentimes school districts don’t adequately prepare them to teach all types of students. To teach reading effectively, educators must have an in-depth knowledge of all the processes that are involved in the act of reading and writing.
Programs that incorporate the science of reading in SAAS products and professional development courses make a huge difference for teachers and, ultimately, these programs are the best investment of ARP ESSER funding. As teachers learn the how, what, and why of literacy acquisition, they will be fully prepared to support all types of students (including low-income students, multilingual learners, and students with learning disabilities like dyslexia).
What to Look for in Professional Literacy Training Programs
The most impactful investment of ARP ESSER funds is going to be putting funding into teacher training programs based on the science of reading. Professional literacy training programs shouldn’t only focus on educating teachers on the literacy acquisition process, but they should also empower the educator workforce as a whole, including school leaders, coaches, principals, and district administrators. By making sure all levels of leadership have an in-depth understanding of literacy acquisition, students will have a better chance of finding success in reading.
While all school districts are going to have different students with different needs, here are some program key features to look out for (along with being based on the science of reading):
- Assessment without testing: Educators should have ongoing progress-monitoring data and visibility for each of their students to adequately differentiate instruction. Teachers should focus on what matters most, which is delivering the right instruction at the right time.
- Personalized, flexible, and sustained learning: Like their students, every educator is going to have unique learning needs. A solid professional training program will offer personalized, scaffolded training to ensure they develop the skills necessary to support student literacy learning.
- Alignment with standards: Literacy training programs should align with standards such as the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading.
ARP ESSER funds can be used on literacy intervention programs, professional training programs, assessments, and more—districts have to determine where they want to invest those funds. Ultimately, whatever area of education the funds are directed toward, districts should take care to make sure those programs are based on the science of reading to ensure student reading success.
All of Lexia’s professional training and literacy education programs implement evidence-based techniques from the science of reading. Our solutions support teacher effectiveness and equitable literacy instruction that can address interrupted learning (learning loss) and fall within the scope of lots of ARP ESSER allowable uses. For more information about how ESSER funds can be invested in Lexia’s literacy and professional development programs, we’ve outlined some of our evidence-based solutions here.