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School district looks to increase student literacy this year through professional development

The Lake Oswego School District will ramp up its efforts to address literacy and improve the identification and education of students with dyslexia and other reading differences.

Superintendent Lora de la Cruz first presented the idea at the Sept. 9 school board meeting, in advance of Dyslexia Awareness Month in October. "During the listening portion of my entry plan, I had opportunities to engage with many parents and community members," she said. De la Cruz has attended meetings of many district committees, including the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Accountability Committee and the Student Services Parent Accountability Committee (SSPAC), as well as back to school nights and PTO meetings. "A great area of need is of our students that are not being served, especially when it comes to literacy," de la Cruz told the school board. "Students with these learning needs haven't been met, and this lands heavy on my heart."

De la Cruz said she specifically heard from one parent that she feels like her child has been left behind by the district. "One parent said that the Lake Oswego School District is not the best district for all students. I take that very seriously," she said. "We need to have 100% of our students having their needs met."

De la Cruz directed her staff to form a task force on dyslexia, which will be led by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Schiele. The objective is to create a dyslexia handbook: "A clear instructional pathway for students with dyslexia and similar struggles," de la Cruz said.

"Dr. Schiele has led focus groups to determine the current needs and recruit members for the task force," she added. "There is a clear need in professional development."

Schiele told the Review that 25 instructors will receive the first round of professional learning in October. "This will include K-8 Literacy Specialists and Learning Specialists, some kindergarten lead teachers, and two district administrators who are providing literacy leadership," she said.

The professional learning plan is informed by the Orton Gillingham Approach, "a direct, explicit, multi-sensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy when reading, writing, and spelling does not come easily to individuals, such as those with dyslexia," according to the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. "It is most properly understood and practiced as an approach, not a method, program or system."

Schiele said that the Orton-Gillingham Approach was chosen by the district after extensive research because it is an evidence-based methodology.

Along with the professional training, Schiele said the district will use measures such as The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), a set of procedures for measuring student abilities. They will also use instructional resources created by the 95% Group — a nationally recognized leader in reading development and improvement for grades K-12 — including The Phonological Awareness Screener for Intervention (PASI) and Phonics Screener for Intervention (PSI), which provide additional information on student literacy.

Schiele agreed with de la Cruz's assessment that the district has students that are struggling with literacy. "Our data over time, as well as a review of our current literacy resources, demonstrate that while our reading instruction is meeting the needs of many students, we have students who need more targeted instruction and intervention," she said.

School board member Kirsten Aird said she wasn't given the resources she needed when her child struggled with reading, and was instead told to talk to other parents. "I really want to express so much gratitude around the dyslexia work that you're moving toward," she said. "I am so pleased to know that with this type of work moving forward, folks won't be given the type of direction I was given."

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