Gaining Ground: What is propelling MPA Primary’s reading growth?

In April, we released a new report entitled “Gaining Ground,” which looked at student literacy progress on the i-Ready assessment and highlighted the top 10 OUSD elementary schools that are helping Black students, Latino students, and English Learners make gains in reading (Spanish version here). We know that the pandemic created major disruptions to student learning for the past few years, making the urgency to accelerate student learning this year even more critical.

Last week, I listened to a discussion on early literacy in California appropriately titled, “an unmet promise”. As it stands, three out of every five third graders in our state are reading below grade level.

Course-correcting this decades-old literacy crisis is long overdue and will require an overhaul of the way many schools teach reading. Fortunately, one Oakland Unified school is ready to show us how it can be done and how powerful this movement can be.

For years, Madison Park Academy (MPA) Primary was one of the lowest-performing schools in Oakland. “The data showed that the longer you were at MPA, the worse off you were literacy-wise,” said former principal, Dr. Sabrina “Bri” Moore, whose 11-year tenure with the school ended last year. “The community started to believe that reading didn’t even happen until second grade.”

Students and staff receive awards for substantial literacy growth.

But a look at their winter i-Ready results tells a new story – one of a school that, over time, has transformed into what Dr. Moore calls “an anti-racist literacy school.” In our Gaining Ground report we see that, out of 66 elementary schools in OUSD, MPA Primary is the only school that met our criteria for high reading growth for Black students, Latino students, and English Learners.

So what exactly is propelling MPA’s exceptional reading growth?

“How we teach reading now is so different,” said MPA Primary’s current principal, Elaina Amos. Amos is referring to instruction based on the science of reading, where teachers and specialists focus heavily on fundamentals like “sounding out” words (decoding) and understanding the relationship between those sounds and written text (phonics). While OUSD is making a district-wide transition to this method of teaching reading, MPA Primary is an early adopter and is already experiencing success.

Amos is also clear that data has to be a driver of instructional decisions. After assessments are administered, teachers analyze their students’ progress and gaps and determine where curricular adjustments need to be made. But the data talks don’t stop with staff.

“After their assessments we share the data with [students] and say ‘these are areas of growth that we need to work on,'” Amos explained. “We get students really excited about their own growth.”

MPA Primary has turned traditional report card conferences into “family data conversations” where student data reports are reviewed to help families better understand what it means for their children to be on, above, or below grade level. This type of engagement promotes a culture of transparency, but it also allows families to provide targeted support for their children at home.

The news of MPA Primary’s recent reading growth achievements thrilled Dr. Moore and Amos, but neither were surprised. Ultimately, both leaders recognize what an investment in literacy can do to transform individual lives and an entire community.

“Literacy is reading self, reading the word, and reading the world,” said Dr. Moore. “At the end of the day, literacy is the real liberation.”

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