Waterloo schools show state board how literacy programs are working

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG TV9)- One eastern Iowa school district has led the state three years in a row in improving literacy rates for the youngest students. And members of the Iowa State Board of Education took a look on Thursday at the secret of that success.

Iowa Department of Education director Ryan Wise watches students in a classroom at Lou Henry Elementary School in Waterloo.

Waterloo is improving literacy rates in spite of challenges faced by the district.

For one, students in the district speak a total of 30 different languages. And 11 percent are learning English as a second language.

Board members for the state see reports and hear from experts about what works in classrooms. But they don’t often get to go into classrooms and see for themselves. And that was the reason for visiting Waterloo Schools.

As part of the early literacy push, Waterloo has dual language kindergarten classes with not just instruction in Spanish, which a number of schools do, but also French.

Waterloo superintendent Jane Lindaman says literacy has been a priority for Iowa Education Board members. She wanted to show them how it can work in practice.

“We appreciate the structure that’s been provided to us. So to show them what our kids are doing such as starting in kindergarten with really good phonics instruction, it was a pleasure,” she said.

Lindaman school state board members that while Waterloo has shown the most literacy improvement it recent years it hasn’t been easy.

And, as a district, Waterloo is just now getting back to the statewide average for reading scores.

Administrators say that’s an indication of the challenges in a district with higher poverty rates than many others. But, Iowa Department of Education director Ryan Wise, says it’s also an indication that educators can close the achievement gap with effort.

“What I saw today was a focus on improvement. They know exactly where they are with each kid in every classroom and they’re not satisfied with that,” he said.

Waterloo administrators also told the state board they saw signs that a summer reading retention program is working as well.

Eighty eight percent of Waterloo students improved or maintained reading skills over the summer.