Osseo Area Schools focus on literacy

School board heard report on 2012 literacy initiatives

The Osseo School District is kicking off system-wide literacy initiatives this year to encourage literacy at all grade levels in compliance with state law.

The school board heard a presentation about the plan at its Sept. 4 meeting.

“Literacy development starts at a very early age and is the foundation for all academic success,” said Wendy Biallas-Odell, director of curriculum, instruction and educational standards. “We know that students will need to read, write and communicate at higher levels than ever before.”

Biallas-Odell said Osseo Area Schools usually do well in reading, noting that proficiency on MCA reading tests has been going up. She said all students in the district, from kindergarten through 12th grade, are required to have a full year of reading or language arts every year.

This year the district is seeking to continue increasing proficiency levels through its literacy initiatives.


Local literacy plan

The district is focusing on implementing a local literacy plan to comply with the “Read Well by Third Grade” statute passed by the state legislature in 2011. That bill required districts to develop, communicate and implement a “local literacy plan.”

“We have done a lot of work, so … we viewed the Read Well by Third Grade statute as an opportunity to create a systems approach to effective practices that had begun, and to move all schools forward in the implementation,” Biallas-Odell said.

Robin Gunsolus is serving in a one-year position as the local literacy plan leader. Gunsolus has experience as a teacher, instructional coach and a literacy coach.

Gunsolus outlined the district’s local literacy plan for the school board. She said the plan includes five basic elements: core instruction, assessment, intervention, staff development and parents as partners.

Core instruction

The first element of the plan is core instruction, which refers to the teaching every student receives. This instruction is focused on Minnesota English language arts standards. She said the core instruction is based on scientifically tested practices.

Gunsolus also said the core instruction component calls for balanced literacy training of all teachers. Teacher training includes the idea of “gradual release of responsibility,” which is an instructional technique that involves modeling a desired behavior before asking students to perform. According to Gunsolus, that ensures students “have everything they need before they’re asked to master a skill.”


The second part of the literacy plan is assessment. Gunsolus said most of the assessment system will remain the same, with two exceptions.

The first is that all student assessment scores will now be available to teachers electronically.

“What that means is teachers will have access to student scores at all times, so that they can make sure that their students are progressing the way that they know that they should,” Gunsolus said.

It will also allow principals and district administration to monitor the progress of entire schools more closely.

The second change in the assessment system is that schools will begin systematically monitoring the progress of students receiving reading interventions to make sure they’re making the needed progress.


Although the district is already using interventions, it is seeking to standardize best practices across all schools.

“We are systematically putting in place research-based interventions in all of our schools,” Gunsolus said.

The goal is to make sure interventions happen “with fidelity throughout our school district so that our children who are struggling really are getting the extra help they need so that they can be successful,’” Gunsolus said.

Staff development

Staff development will include required training, optional training and online training modules.

“We want to make sure that all … teachers have the support and the information that they need in order to implement … the plan,” Gunsolus said.

Information that is crucial for all teachers will be conveyed in required training sessions.

“We will use system time to provide the support and training they need,” Gunsolus said.

Further optional training will be available to teachers who may want more information on specific topics. Training modules will also be available online so teachers can access them on their own time.

Parents are partners

Gunsolus said parents have been valued partners in the past but said the literacy plan will focus on that relationship even further.

First, the district plans to communicate more about student progress and how parents can support literacy. This will happen through the Wednesday envelopes that go to parents. It will also happen through other handouts, by contacting parents at conference time and by having parent meetings to talk about literacy.

Second, the district intends to provide parents with more resources to help their children learn to read well. Some resources will be online, and others will be handouts.

“We want to make sure parents have the tools they need to work with students at home,” Gunsolus said.


Older students

Kris Rouleau, coordinator of curriculum, instruction and educational standards, updated the board on literacy initiatives for students beyond third grade.

“As our students progress beyond third grade, they begin to transition from learning to read to reading to learn,” she said.

Rouleau said all secondary students have an English class, and some have an additional reading support class. But she said literacy training isn’t limited to English classes.

In 2010 Minnesota adopted new English language arts standards, which included “common core state standards,” which have been adopted by 47 states, Rouleau said. In addition to those common core standards, Minnesota also added some of its own standards.

Minnesota’s standards now include literacy standards for specific subject areas. That means sixth- through 12th-graders must meet standards for literacy in “history/social studies, science and technical subjects.”

“These standards have established that instruction in literacy is a shared responsibility,” Rouleau said. She added that teachers have been integrating literacy training with other subjects for years, but that it varied from teacher to teacher and school to school. She said the district is working toward more consistency

Sandra Day, a health and social studies specialist for curriculum, instruction and educational standards, explained how the district is moving toward consistency.

The process began in earnest last spring when teams of teachers began identifying specific ways to incorporate subject-specific literacy training into their lessons and units. That work continued in August and will continue throughout the year.

Day said science teachers are also going through a similar process. They are especially focusing on how to best use the lab reports that all students are already required to do.

According to Day the work is being done in collaboration with English teachers.

“We feel that’s really important that we work together with English teachers for consistency, for our students’ sake,” she said.

Day also noted teachers in a professional learning community at Brooklyn Junior High in Brooklyn Park have been using effective methods. Those teachers will share their methods with others in the district throughout the year.