Catch kids before they fall - Renaissance Australia
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New approaches in supporting struggling readers
March 13, 2014

Catch kids before they fall

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By: Laurie Borkon, Vice President of Government Affairs, Renaissance USA

I believe that education is the only way to social justice. That belief led me to an undergraduate degree in elementary education and a master’s in curriculum and instruction, with a reading specialist emphasis. Since those days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it seems that our nation’s attention to K-3 reading has come into increasingly sharper focus. And, collectively, our approaches to assessment, instruction, intervention, and practice have become more consistent.

We all agree that one of the fundamental goals of education is to help every child learn to read. For decades, many of us in education, and in all the areas that impact education, have asked the questions:

  • How are we going to ensure every child learns to read?
  • What is it going to take to get there?

We now have a sufficient research base, thanks to decades of work from experts in the field so that we can screen kids, provide targeted instruction and intervention, and maximize our precious instructional time.

In the 14 years I’ve been at Renaissance Learning, I’ve been honored to be part of the growing movement to build a culture of data literacy and data fluency within schools and districts. This allows us to more systematically spot struggling readers and ensure all students get the support they need to become successful readers

At Renaissance Learning, we never lose sight of the faces and the voices of the teachers and the students behind the data. One of my mentors is an elementary principal in Denver who has been conducting data teams for the last decade! She creates a safe, empowering environment for teachers to share data and classroom experiences to collaboratively determine how to better help all of their students. (A video showing data teams in action at Brown Elementary can be viewed at

My colleague, Eileen Lucas, and I just completed a new policy brief titled: How to Catch Kids Before They Fall: A multi-year system of supports for state reading policies. This paper describes a proactive, multi-year “system of supports and safeguards.” This system of supports is what many of us are already doing—though we may be calling it by several different names:  Response to Intervention, Response to Instruction, RTI2, RTII, MTSS, or just plain data-driven decision making.

Let’s use this paper to celebrate the strides we’ve already made in our districts, schools, and classrooms. Let’s also use this paper to chart the course for next steps toward a fully-realized multi-year system of supports so that we can catch all struggling students—across grades and subject areas—and ensure that every child is a reader, and every adult has the literacy skills to be a contributing citizen.

Thank you.