LAUSD’s approach helps struggling readers; don’t mess with it

In many public school systems, struggling readers are essentially stuck in a “wait to fail” model without programs designed to identify and support students who need help. For the past three years, Los Angeles Unified School District had Primary Promise, a successful program designed to address this very issue. Now LAUSD has revamped the program, and it only plans to finance it for one year.

I have worked as a Primary Promise literacy teacher at a Black Student Achievement Program school in LAUSD. The Primary Promise program goal was for every child to leave third grade with the foundational reading skills to transition from being a student learning to read into a student who reads to learn.

Primary Promise provided students and classroom teachers with specialists who were able to provide targeted instruction to the students who needed it most. As a National Board Certified Teacher in Literacy with a reading and literacy authorization on my credential, I could never provide this kind of intensive support in small groups the way I did as a Primary Promise educator.

I was able to focus on four to five students at a time with an instructional aide as opposed to 24-32 students — depending on grade level — with no assistance. We would see 40 students a day in small groups for 25-30 minute sessions. Nothing compares to the impact of giving students this kind of personalized instruction.

Foundational reading skills are the key to closing the gap in educational achievement and equity. So many of our students don’t yet have the skills they need to learn how to read. Filling in those holes takes time, consistency and dedication.

In March, when all the program educators were told LAUSD was ending the program, the district couldn’t even give us a rationale as to why we were not continuing our work. We were told that a new intervention program would take its place and that if we were interested, we could apply. The information disseminated was vague, and it was clear that classroom teaching positions were the priority because of the national teacher shortage.

The new Interventionist program that is replacing Primary Promise is set to support students beyond elementary school, which solves a different problem. Primary Promise was well-thought-out and strategic. Extensive training included work with the District Management Group over the course of 10-week intervals to guide groups of teachers in Breakthrough Teams to set specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely, or SMART, goals and implement new strategies to improve student achievement. Primary Promise teachers were supported to become academic leaders and learned how to facilitate data chats when teachers meet to analyze assessment results and set SMART goals for student achievement. This type of study with groups of teachers furthered our reach in targeting student literacy and math needs.

The revamped program, the Literacy and Numeracy Intervention Program, is still a mystery, and teachers that were hired to do the work don’t even have a clear understanding of their role yet.  Little information has been disclosed beyond that the new program will be more of a push-in model as well as focused on training classroom teachers to sustain intervention.

LAUSD, the second-largest school district in the nation, could be setting the standard for how to ensure that all students can read by the end of third grade. Instead, this excellent program has been discarded without a clear vision or an equivalent replacement.

Classroom teachers can only do so much. There are too many students who need extra help. Having a specialist that can service at-risk students in small groups for reading and math will ensure that students have a strong educational foundation. Instead, Los Angeles Unified has chosen to implement something temporarily and ignore the progress achieved.

Primary Promise had protections that the new Interventionist program simply does not have. Why does the superintendent plan to replace a program that was working without paying attention to the data or taking time to speak to teachers, students and parents? Why is there no room in a $5.8 billion district surplus for this successful program?

Dismantling Primary Promise was not the right way to serve the children of LAUSD.


Ari Campbell teaches at Windsor Hills Math, Science, and Aerospace Magnet, which is part of the Westchester Community of Schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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