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Chicago Public Schools Showcases Early Literacy Practices that are Moving Students Forward

25 September 2023

District and school leaders touted significant early literacy gains

CPS Office of Communications

Phone: 773-553-1620
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CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Pedro Martinez and CEdO Bogdana Chkoumbova on Monday visited classrooms at Edward K. “Duke'' Ellington Elementary School to observe core instructional practices that helped Ellington and schools across the District make early literacy gains on the 2022-23 i-Ready assessment. The District’s laser sharp focus on a high-quality early literacy curriculum and instruction is helping CPS’ youngest learners build a foundation in literacy that will serve them as they continue on to high school, college and careers.

Visual of Early Literacy Factsheet

“Early literacy builds a foundation for student success by helping students develop skills to not only understand the written word, but the world around them,” said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez. “We are extremely proud of the gains our students made over the past year and we are committed to continuing to invest in the resources and supports that help our students learn, grow, and thrive.”

By the Numbers

  • K-2 i-Ready data for SY23 shows that CPS students on average, outperformed their typical growth expectations - and are outpacing their large-city counterparts
  • K-2 i-Ready data shows the percentage of students at mid- or above-grade level more than quadrupled over the course of the 2022-23 school year, going from 9% at the beginning of the year to 39% at the end of the year
  • The percentage of Black students at mid/above grade level increased sixfold from BOY to EOY, from 5% to 32%
  • The percentage of Latino students at mid/above grade level increased sixfold from BOY to EOY, from 5% to 31% Students saw significant gains at every grade level — K, 1, and 2

During the 2022-23 school year, the District's intentional efforts, along with the hard work and dedication of CPS educators, school leaders, families and students, led to significant literacy gains. K-2 i-Ready data is showing greater than average growth. Thirty nine percent of students ended SY23 in the mid or above grade level category, a 30 percentage point increase from the beginning of the school year.

The i-Ready data stems from a screening/benchmark assessment that helps educators gauge student skill level and growth in reading and mathematics. The results help teachers adjust instruction and identify students in need of additional support. The i-Ready suite of assessments, first implemented in CPS last year, includes an online assessment that can be administered three times a year – fall, winter, and spring – along with early literacy tasks that enable educators to understand student needs and monitor progress with foundational skills.

In addition to implementing i-Ready during the SY23 CPS made strategic investments as part of the District’s Three-Year Blueprint to ensure that students had the resources and support to learn, grow, and succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. Over the past year, the District has focused on making academic progress through high-quality rigorous instruction in all subject areas, including literacy. In SY23, CPS promoted early literacy learning by focusing on four key strategic initiatives:

  • Increasing access to high-quality, culturally-responsive curriculum and resources
  • Ensuring access to effective and rigorous literacy instruction
  • Leveraging data to increase equity of literacy outcomes
  • Redesigning professional learning for the 21st century

“Our early literacy approach includes literacy-specific intervention tools, guidance, and training to support our youngest readers and writers,” said CPS Chief Education Officer Chkoumbova. “Over the past year, our intentional efforts, along with the hard work and dedication of CPS educators, school leaders, families and students, has led to significant literacy gains that will benefit our students for years to come.”

The District’s comprehensive approach to early literacy includes research-based strategies and practices to help students of varying needs and backgrounds learn to read and understand written language. Key practices include systematic and explicit foundational skills instruction, abundant reading of rich, engaging, culturally-relevant texts, extensive discussion, and frequent writing to complement and support reading development.

The District showcased its focus on early literacy curriculum and instruction during a classroom tour at Ellington Elementary School. District leaders, including Chicago Board of Education Member Tanya D. Woods, joined Ellington Principal Dr. Ernest Williams on a tour through two classrooms; one where kindergarten students were enjoying a culturally-rich read aloud session and another where second graders were diving in on reading intervention work with an online program and a specific and explicit instructional approach that supports student learning.

"Working with our central office staff, our teachers, parents, and students to improve our literacy numbers has been a collaborative effort that led Ellington to be recognized today," said Dr. Williams. "The strategies and curriculum exemplifying best practices regarding literacy is an idea our school community has gotten behind. Today's celebration shows that Ellington's students are better for it."

Principal Edward Collins from Luther Burbank Elementary and Librarian Carol Saur joined Monday’s presentation as well. Both Ellington and Burbank have implemented the District’s Skyline English Language Arts curriculum in grades K-8 which ensures a strong focus on Pre-K-second grade foundational skills instruction.

“Our goal as teachers and administrators is that every child feels joy engaging with literature; that they get intrigued with books later on as teenagers; and that as adult readers, they read for pleasure and information,” said Principal Collins. “Whether a teacher is modeling how to form letter sounds during phonics time, or showing their students how to blend those letters, explicit instruction of learning words, understanding meaning, and comprehending whole pieces of literature shape how children become confident readers.”

To further strengthen the District’s Early Literacy growth, CPS launched the Pre-K Skyline Foundational Skills curriculum pilot program. This new pilot program will supplement early literacy instruction in CPS Pre-K classrooms, supporting teachers in delivering developmentally-appropriate foundational skills lessons multiple times per week throughout the school year. By the end of the 2023-24 school year, CPS anticipates this initial curriculum launch will be implemented in 100 schools, impacting 225 Pre-K classrooms.

To continue to fulfill our commitment to expand opportunities for biliteracy, CPS has launched Skyline Artes del lenguaje del español (ALE), a comprehensive, K-12, culturally and linguistically authentic Spanish language arts curriculum. Skyline ALE is currently being adopted in nearly 120 schools District-wide, including more than 100 schools in grades K-2.

An additional commitment CPS has made in prioritizing early literacy has been through the ESSER-funded Early Literacy Resourcing Initiative. Between SY22 and SY23, teachers in PK-3rd grade classrooms in 90 high-priority schools have received resources to help create inviting language- and literacy-rich environments, including colorful rugs, comfortable seating, technology to support literacy instruction, culturally-relevant classroom library text sets, and Skyline-aligned independent reading collections. In addition, students received take-home book packs two times during the year to fortify their home reading collections. An additional 50 schools will be resourced in SY24.

Learn more about CPS' approach to Early Literacy.