YostServing in a hybrid role, Sarah Yost created cross-curricular literacy training that dramatically improved students’ reading skills.

School: Westport Middle School
District: Jefferson County Public Schools
State: Kentucky
Source: Hope Street Group

After our school was identified by our state as a school with repeated low performance on state tests in 2013, my principal asked me to serve as the literacy resource teacher. Data showed that only 25 percent of our students had tested at the “proficient” level in reading during the 2012-13 school year. My primary objective was to help our school raise literacy achievement.

While continuing to teach two classes of 8th grade ELA, I set out to begin this work. I developed cross-curricular literacy initiatives, planned integrated curricula, coached teachers, identified students for intervention, monitored their progress, communicated with parents, and led professional development. In observing instruction across all content areas, I found that teachers were reading aloud to students almost exclusively, and that students were not practicing with texts on their own, thereby being denied opportunities to engage actively with a text.

One solution I proposed was to help all teachers intentionally teach students to annotate texts before discussing/reading the text with the whole class. To facilitate this, I met with the math, science, and social studies department leads to share how to annotate texts to improve the school-wide literacy instructional program and our practice of literacy instruction. I asked my colleagues to model their annotation instruction in department meetings in order to improve literacy instruction and the overall attitude towards it throughout our school. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and student work and classroom observations showed students annotating in all content areas.

Reading scores on the first district assessment show a marked improvement: on the multiple choice portions of each test, proficiency improved to 57.8 percent in the 6th grade, 61.4 percent in 7th grade, and 72.2 percent in the 8th grade. I believe these improvements in student achievement are directly related to the annotation instruction being taught in every classroom.

Unlike many of the other schools in our district, and all the schools that outranked us, our school does not practice selective enrollment; the socio-economic status of our students has remained one of the lowest in the nation. Our remarkable and measurable increase in student achievement demonstrates real learning both in terms of content knowledge and in test-taking confidence and stamina, which is critical as standardized assessments can open or close important doors for students. These tests can indicate graduation from high school and entrance into college and are important access points for later life success. I believe my leadership united the excellent teachers in our building to achieve a common goal with shared strategies and language; our students achieved because their teachers united behind them in trusting, collaborative working relationships.