Increasing Literacy In Pennsylvania Schools

increasing literacy in Pennsylvania schools

Efforts to improve childhood literacy need knowledgeable and dedicated educators. As Pennsylvania embarks on a state-wide initiative to increase literacy, new competencies are being developed so educators can effectively teach reading.

The Structured Literacy Approach

The Pennsylvania Department of Education will offer structured literacy support through professional development and training for educators with certifications in early childhood education, elementary-middle-level education, Pre-K-through-12 special education, English as a Second Language, and Reading Specialist. 

Structured literacy is an approach to teaching oral and written language that helps students improve their reading skills. It focuses on the essential components of reading: vocabulary, phonics, comprehension, fluency, and phonemic awareness.

Structured literacy practices feature a substantial amount of student-teacher interaction, ongoing reviews, and prompt and corrective feedback. Instruction is provided for many aspects of literacy including phonemes, letter-sound relationships, syllable patterns, and the structures of text, sentences, and paragraphs. Skills and concepts are taught in logical order.

Combating Illiteracy

Illiteracy and lower reading scores are concerns for K-12 school systems across America. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), reading proficiency for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders in U.S. schools has only marginally increased in the past few decades. In Pennsylvania, there was no significant change in reading scores between 2017 and 2019. However, Pennsylvania policymakers still aim to enable educators with methods to teach students to become proficient readers.

Fighting illiteracy requires help from all levels of government, with local and state programs providing direct support to students and teachers. Pennsylvania is just one commonwealth in the U.S. that is combating childhood illiteracy by offering teachers training and certification opportunities.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education is establishing the professional development programs to adhere to amendments made to the Pennsylvania School Code. Training programs must offer instruction on structured literacy competencies and standards. The programs must integrate the competencies and standards for the certification programs no later than August 1, 2024.

Heading in the Right Direction

The education department’s actions, as well as school-level teacher development training, are positive steps toward improving child literacy. The first step, according to literacy experts, is for educators to understand why students struggle to read. A contributing factor to low literacy may be that teachers do not know how to adequately identify risks of illiteracy and reading disabilities.

Reading disabilities such as dyslexia, hyperlexia, and other speech and language conditions, affect a person’s reading, understanding, and speaking abilities. There are also environmental factors including lack of exposure to literature and language barriers that limit reading abilities.

Teachers need clear instruction on how to teach reading skills, and be aware of current research on how students learn. Research from psychologists, linguists, and other educators can help teachers in their efforts to improve literacy in their classrooms.

Become a Literacy and Reading Specialist

Are you seeking to enrich the lives of students by helping them advance their reading skills? Carlow’s Master of Education Reading Specialist degree program may be right for you. This graduate degree program will prepare you for the Pre-K-12 Pennsylvania Department of Education Reading Specialist Certification, with a special dyslexia certificate from Carlow. Upon degree completion, you can also seek a position as a reading specialist or literacy coordinator—roles in which you provide intervention support to students in all aspects of literacy instruction.