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SBOE Statement by Alice McNeil regarding DC Early Literacy

I’m Alice McNeill, a language acquisition teacher with DCPS in Ward 5 and previously a reading specialist in Ward 8. I am excited to be here to speak about my experience and training with structured literacy in DC. I am an alum and former mentor for the DC Reading Clinic and last spring completed the two year Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training offered through OSSE. The training I received through the DC Reading Clinic as well as through LETRS was incredibly valuable and what I’ve learned from this coursework I’ve been able to implement to better support my students. However valuable, this training is not accessible or realistic for everyone. It’s necessary that we implement the recommendations put forth by The Early Literacy Task Force to create ongoing training and non-punitive support for Elementary Teachers.

There are four recommendations put forth in the final recommendations from The Early Literacy Task Force: I am going to speak to two of the recommendations that I believe would best support DC Educators and thus our students.

Recommendation 2: The Task Force recommends that DC mandate specialized structured literacy training for school- based administrators who are responsible for evaluating or supporting K-5 teachers and instructional coaches working in public elementary schools across DCPS and DC public charter schools.


Recommendation 3: To provide on-the-job support to educators working in public elementary schools, the Task Force recommends that OSSE develop a walkthrough, structured literacy tool and pilot direct coaching support.

Structured literacy is necessary. When implemented correctly, science based reading instruction has the ability to reach 95-97% of children (International Dyslexia Association, Torgesen, 2002a). While I do not believe test scores give the full picture of my students’ learning, as of right now, that is how we are measuring reading proficiency. The 2023 PARCC scores indicate that 33.6 percent of District students are meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA. While this is an increase, it is still unacceptable. We are the nation’s capital, our public schools should set the bar for excellence.

Literacy is a civil right. The consequences associated with not being able to read are life altering.

Children who are unable to read proficiently by fourth grade tend to experience much lower educational outcomes. In the general population, about 15-20% of people are dyslexic. However, it is estimated that nearly 50% of those in prison are dyslexic and roughly 80% of prisoners are functionally illiterate. We must break the illiteracy to prison pipeline. (KC Moody et al, 2000. WNY Education Alliance, 2022).

I mentioned in my introduction that I completed both the DC Reading Clinic and LETRS training offered through OSSE. I know first hand that these opportunities have greatly impacted me as an educator and most importantly benefited my students, however, these training are not realistic for most educators. While valuable, they require an extensive time commitment. While completing the training through the D.C. Reading Clinic I committed to three afternoons/evenings per week at the actual clinic, two afternoons working one on one with my student and one evening course, as well as additional hours to complete the coursework and plan lessons for my student. LETRS training was a two year commitment, with essentially monthly live 6 hour training sessions, plus asynchronous learning roughly another 6 hours per unit (there are 8 total), and bridge to practice activities.

Put more clearly, in addition to my full time responsibilities teaching at school from 8 to 3:30, as well as lesson planning, which often happens outside of school hours, I spent an additional six hours or more weekly on additional coursework and professional development. The vast majority of educators are unable to take on this additional time commitment while working full time.

The district has clearly stated that using evidence-based instruction is a priority, and creating “an innovative pilot coaching program and the development of a tool that will enable regular feedback for structured literacy classroom instruction” that takes place during the school day per recommendation 3, would make ongoing high quality training in structured literacy a reality.

Thank you to the Early Literacy Task Force for putting together these strong recommendations and thank you for listening.

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