SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — New test results released this week show American teenagers have made no progress on reading in nearly two decades. The testing agency says about 20% of all 15-year-olds don’t have the reading skills that should be mastered by the age of ten. 

In a separate report, Forbes Magazine says many elementary school teachers have never been trained in how to teach systematic phonics, which is considered essential for a young child to learn how to read. 

And a new survey by Education Week Magazine found many reading textbooks and programs widely used by teachers also fail to teach phonics properly.

But in Central New York, there appears to be one shining example where systematic phonics and other proven methods are being used to teach reading with astonishing results. 

In a special edition of Newsmakers this week, Dan Cummings takes us to Lyncourt, where an organization called The Reading League is helping teachers and students succeed.   

You’re looking at a quiet revolution in the classroom. A revolutionary change in the way kids are learning to read. In the Lyncourt Union Free School District, they knew they had to do something.

“I was looking at our reading data and seeing not just a flat line, in the number of students reading with proficiency, but actually a trend downward. So every year, I was seeing fewer and fewer students reading proficiently at grade level,” said Amy Rotundo, District Data and Curriculum Coordinator.

Lyncourt turned to The Reading League, a non-profit organization that works to fundamentally change the way our children learn to read. This fall in Syracuse, 900 educators from 48 states and six countries met at the Oncenter for the group’s third annual conference. Organizers called it “the Woodstock of reading instruction.”  

But it was three years ago when The Reading League was just getting started that Lyncourt became the first, and still, only, school in Onondaga County to adopt the League’s research-based, scientific evidence-based approach to teaching reading. They started with extensive training.

Rotundo said, “We invested not just in elementary classroom teachers, but our ESL teachers, our teachers who are reading specialists, our special education teachers. And we’ve even been working with teacher assistants, just training everybody.”

They took the training into the classroom, and in just two years, from 2017 to 2019, in grades two through six, Lyncourt has seen a 31% increase in students who are reading at or above grade-level expectations and 70% of all students in those grades are now reading at or above proficiency. This 2018 to 2019 comparison shows that out of 18 school districts in Onondaga County, Lyncourt tied for first place for the largest increase in grades third through eighth ELA proficiency as measured by state testing.  

“We’ve never seen improvement like this, ever,” Rotundo said. “And I really have to applaud our teaching staff. They have embraced The Reading League. They have embraced change.”

So, about that change. What is it that Lyncourt now does to help kids learn to read so much better in such a short period of time?

“What we are doing now with the kindergarten group, we are only working on just letter sounds.  Because it’s important at this point that we are not so much focusing on letter names, and learning the names of letters, learning how to spell, but learning what they sound like.  And determining their phonological awareness,” said Jessica Ambrose, an ENL Teacher. “The phonological awareness is to give them a foundation that they need to start the process of reading.”

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