Literacy is currently the highest priority of Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development (AK DEED). Attendance at its statewide Science of Reading Symposium (April 29-May 1, 2022) certainly showed that the Alaska education community is committed to AK DEED’s goals of improving student reading outcomes and to cohesively planned science of reading instruction.
In partnership with the Region 16 Comprehensive Center, SERRC Alaska’s Educational Resource Center, and the Association of Alaska School Boards, AK DEED planned the Symposium for a wide range of participants representing different roles and student ages. Concern heightened in Alaska after its students performed far below the national average in English Language Arts on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), with more than 70 percent of students scoring below the proficient level at both Grades 4 and 8. Results from the state test – the Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools (PEAKS) – show that is particularly important to better meet the needs of Alaska Native students and students from low-income households.
AK DEED requested the support of REL Northwest as it analyzed its reading data to present at the Symposium. REL Northwest staff provided technical support to AK DEED staff members as they analyzed literacy and reading data from early childhood assessments, PEAKS, NAEP, and a district survey focused on reading practices, curricula, and assessments.
“We were pleased to jump right in with AK DEED’s dedicated efforts to improve student reading outcomes,” said Katie Drummond, Director of REL Northwest. “The Science of Reading Symposium provided a valuable opportunity for educators, school and district leaders, school board members, community and tribal leaders, and parents to hear national and local leaders discuss the research and evidence-based approaches to instruction. We are eager to continue working with Alaska partners on the critical equity-focused human-right of reading.”
REL Northwest helped AK DEED to develop data displays and related questions to help share, interpret, and discuss data with conference participants. AK DEED used these resources at the symposium and will continue to support stakeholders as they ensure every child has access to skilled educators who implement rigorous practices.
The Alaska Science of Reading Symposium had two goals for attendees:
- Ground Alaska education stakeholders in a cohesive understanding of the science of reading, and
- Engage in courageous conversations about Alaska’s reading performance and how to move the needle on student outcomes.
The Symposium supported Alaska’s Education Challenge, the state’s strategic education plan (AK DEED, 2017). Two of the plan’s five strategic priorities involve literacy: (1) support all students to read at grade level by the end of third grade; and (2) close the achievement gap by ensuring equitable educational rigor and resources.
“The Alaska Science of Reading Symposium demonstrated that we can fix Alaska’s struggles with reading,” said Alaska DEED Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson. “The response from hundreds of educators, board members, and other student advocates makes me more optimistic than ever that we will be successful in teaching all children to read at grade level by the end of the third grade.”
For more information on evidence-based reading resources:
- What Works Clearinghouse: Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade
- What Works Clearinghouse: Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4–9
- REL Southeast: Guide and Checklists for a School Leader’s Walkthrough during Literacy Instruction in Grades 4-12
- REL Southeast: Effectiveness of Early Literacy Instruction: Summary of 20 Years of Research
- REL West: Joyful Reading and Writing with Young Children