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KU center part of $27M grant to boost literacy for struggling Kansas readers

Monday, September 17, 2018

LAWRENCE — The Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas has been selected to be part of a $27 million federal grant to help schools across the state boost language and literacy skills for struggling readers.

The grant was awarded by the Kansas State Department of Education as part of the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The initiative is designed to improve literacy skills for students from birth through grade 12, including pre-literacy skills, reading and writing, with a focus on English learners, students with disabilities and students from low-income households.

The Kansas State Department of Education and KU team have identified eight subgrantees made up of 32 school districts across the state. Each subgrantee will receive more than $3 million to implement the Striving Readers program. Michael Hock, KUCRL director and sub-award principal investigator, said researchers will help schools build models that meet the specific challenges of their communities and students.

“The initiative has the potential to impact literacy outcomes for large numbers of Kansas children who are currently not reaching their potential be college- and career-ready graduates of Kansas schools,” Hock said. “Importantly, the project will support local schools and districts to analyze and solve challenges specific to their communities, districts, schools, children and families.”

Kansas local education agencies selected to receive funds are now working with Department of Education staff and KU researchers to develop comprehensive birth to grade 12 language and literacy programs that primarily target disadvantaged children. KUCRL researchers Amber Rowland, Suzanne Myers, Jayne James and Hock supported the agencies in their proposal development process. Throughout the life of the grant, KU researchers will work with teachers in the selected schools to help them set goals for student learning, develop action plans for meeting their goals and assist with their implementation of evidence-based curriculum and instruction. They have also developed a virtual instructional coaching model that some of the subgrantees are implementing, and they will be studying different instructional coaching models and their relative effects on teachers’ instructional practices.

“This instructional coaching model is all about creating a partnership with the teachers and helping them examine the evidence in front of them in the classroom, then having conversations to discuss what is working and where they can improve,” Myers said. “We think it could open up great, personalized professional development for teachers.”

A strategic literacy team of KU faculty, researchers and staff will provide technical assistance to districts participating in the grant. The team includes researchers from KU’s Juniper Gardens Children's Project, including Judith Carta and Dale Walker, and KU faculty James Basham, Sean Smith, Barbara Bradley, Diane Nielsen and Jim Knight. The KU Center for Research on Learning is organizationally housed within the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies.

In addition to helping teachers set individual goals of how to engage their students and identify what they want to change or improve, researchers will rigorously test results on literacy outcomes, share the feedback with partner educators and report results to Kansas and U.S. Departments of Education. While the project is scheduled to last three years with the possibility for a fourth, the partners are setting goals beyond a limited time frame.

“Part of the Center for Research on Learning’s support for this project is to find ways to make it sustainable. As part of that, we’ll build a website and connect people across the state, whether funded through the project or not, with other literacy groups,” Myers said. “We hope that we can be a unifying, go-to place for anyone who wants to understand birth to grade 12 literacy in Kansas.”

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