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In conversation with ... Micki Ray

Micki Ray

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2022

Q. You were a high school teacher in Anderson and Scott counties before you joined the Kentucky Department of Education. Why did you want to be a literacy consultant at KDE?    

A. 
KDE was getting ready to revise the reading and writing standards. I’ve always been a standards girl, so I was interested in providing support to that process. From there, I moved into a policy adviser role in the Office of Teaching and Learning. I had an interest and appreciation for the way policy can be utilized to support teachers and students. I then moved into the director role for the Division of Program Standards and became chief academic officer last September.

Q. What does this new role entail?

A. I
t is grounded within the work of the Office of Teaching and Learning. Anything that’s connected to academic standards, the multi-tiered system of supports for students, our grant programs and minimum high school graduation requirements.    

Q. During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 9, the Read to Succeed Act. What will the bill do?

A. I
worked with KDE staff on the Read to Succeed Act, which was personally and professionally meaningful. Its goal is to increase student achievement in reading outcomes by providing supports for teachers. Right now, 50% of our students, on average, score below proficiency. What the bill attempts to do is not only provide for statewide professional learning for teachers on how the brain works and how to teach reading, but also to diagnose why students are struggling, why some may need accelerated learning in reading. The target audiences are K-5 teachers, but we’re also encouraging administrators, instructional coaches, really anyone who’s working in a K-5 environment that either supports teachers who are teaching reading, or are actively providing reading instruction to students. We also hope to generate a coaching model to have coaches for schools with greatest need. There are school specific and also larger statewide initiatives, and it all works together to support local schools and districts to accelerate learning and reading.

Q. Why is reading proficiency so important to a child's education?

A. 
By third grade, students should be shifting from learning how to read to being able to comprehend and analyze grade-level text. Research and evidence show that if a student is not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, they are less likely to have academic success across all content areas. We want to provide supports to students by the end of third grade and moving into grade four to accelerate their progress.

Q. So Read to Succeed will focus on early grades?

A. 
It focuses primarily on kindergarten through third grade, but if a student is not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, mechanisms are in place for enrichment and support into fourth grade. The implementation timeline is on the KDE website. We need schools and districts to have time to select a universal screener and to make sure that they have a diagnostic assessment, and also train their teachers to use the tools. The 2023-24 school year is when the greatest impact occurs. That’s when districts will have the reading improvement plan and provide read-at-home supports.

Q. The legislature appropriated $22 million for the program. How will that money be used?

Micki Ray, who moved from the classroom to join KDE about five years ago, presents at the Kentucky Board of Education meeting held at Kentucky School for the Deaf last December. Provided by KDE. 

 

A. 
The $22 million is associated directly with the Read to Succeed Act. We get $11 million in each year. KDE had an existing $10 million in ESSER ARP funding. We had moved forward with the statewide professional learning and reading for teachers using that. Now that the bill has passed, it ensures that we can sustain this model and target a greater number of teachers to have the professional learning.

Q. There’s been an argument over whether emerging readers should be taught phonics, comprehension and vocabulary instead of being taught to read using context, sometimes called whole language. Why does the way reading is taught matter?

A. 
All students need decoding skills and to understand the most fundamental elements of oral and written language. For example, if we think about students only interpreting context clues or visuals, they may see an image of a horse and “horse” is in the text, but the student may interpret the picture as “pony.” They understand the context, but they’re not making word associations, and word associations are needed to build to larger sentences, to aid in paragraph comprehension.

Q. How does Read to Succeed differ from Read to Achieve?

A. 
Read to Achieve is a grant program. It has served 300 of our 693 elementary schools, so it cannot provide the state-level support needed to all of our elementary schools. It also targeted tier three intervention – students with the most significant reading struggles. Read to Succeed is targeted at tier one instruction, or all students. By providing teachers who do tier one instruction with the professional learning that they need, we should see larger growth in terms of the overall student outcomes in reading.

Q. Does that mean Read to Achieve will no longer exist?

A. 
No, it will continue because it serves a very different student population. The two programs have different goals and both are imperative. Some students will need extra support and enrichment in tier two interventions. Others will need more intensive interventions at tier three level or exceptional student services. So we are focusing some of our supports at tier one, so more teachers and more students have the support they need. Hopefully that will mean there will be fewer referrals and fewer students who need tier two and tier three interventions.

Q. Can you tell us about the Kentucky Reading Academies and Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) and how it supports Read to Succeed?

A. 
LETRS is the professional learning mechanism to provide opt-in support for teachers across the state. Its goal is to help them determine what to teach to increase student success. So no matter what locally adopted reading or intervention program the school has, teachers can still benefit from LETRS because it is the pedagogical instructional piece to help teachers more effectively implement their programs. There are eight units of study. For each one, there is a “bridge to practice” section so teachers can apply what they learn. Kentucky Reading Academies is the more direct name connected to SB 9. So LETRS is the first professional learning through the Kentucky Reading Academies. With it, we’ll go through several phases, but we’ll eventually reach a point, hopefully, when only new teachers need that training.

Q. So the academies aren’t physical places, but instead the program under which these teacher support programs exist.  

A. 
Yes. Teachers will do the training in their schools or districts. Right now, much of the work will be online. There’s an informational webinar and registration info at the Academy’s webpage at https://bit.ly/Kyreading. The professional learning will always be opt-in. For this first year, which starts September 2022, we have up to 2,400 slots. Registration opened mid-April, and we already have 1,100 responses. We have additional slots for principals because we know it is important to have their support for teachers in this training. The teacher course is two years; LETRS for administrators is a one-year course. It’s not required, but we recommend that any teacher cohort teams from schools and districts have a principal who’s alongside them in the learning.

Q. How can school board members support Read to Succeed in their districts?

A. 
That’s going to be a key component because we need local boards to be committed to support the initiative. As I mentioned, Read to Succeed is opt-in. So the local board can communicate its desire for teachers within their system to have the professional learning to support students who are learning to read. Boards can also think about the school calendar and professional learning days so teachers who invest their time in this professional learning have flexibility. Boards could think about funding – funding for release time for teachers to collaborate or to be in each other’s classrooms or maybe even provide an honorarium for their participation. They also could promote the significance of the opportunity and their vision for early literacy within the district.

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