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TO:                  Superintendent of Schools

                        Elementary Principals


FROM:            J. Duke Albanese, Commissioner


DATE:             December 12, 2000


RE:                   Conference/Rollout for Early Literacy Report – A Solid Foundation:  Supportive Contexts for Early Literacy Programs in Maine Schools



On November 21, 2000, the Maine Department of Education released a major new report on early literacy that breaks out of the simplistic national “reading wars” debate by sharing findings from Maine schools with high literacy achievement as well as a model for constant improvement that will make Maine’s top-of-the-nation results even better.  The report, titled A Solid Foundation:  Supportive Contexts for Early Literacy Programs in Maine Schools, provides an opportunity for educators and parents statewide to think critically about effective literacy practices.  


The Department has scheduled a one-day conference to examine the findings on January 22, 2001 from 9:30 – 3:30 at the Augusta Civic Center.  We encourage schools to send teams composed of teachers, literacy specialists, and administrators to participate in a text-based discussion of the characteristics of the contexts that support high literacy achievement and to engage in an interactive examination of questions about literacy practice.


            Unlike other literacy reports that specify particular instructional practices schools should implement to ensure literacy achievement, A Solid Foundation describes a set of inter-related characteristics common to successful early literacy programs in Maine schools as well as the contexts in which the characteristics exist.  Further, the report offers schools a framework for constant improvement by examining their own practices and offers ideas for continued examination of literacy related issues, such as ongoing professional development for educators, opportunities for educators to collaborate, using assessment data to inform instruction, and supporting literacy development during the preschool years.


            A Solid Foundation contains the Early Literacy Work Group’s analysis of Maine schools with high performance in early literacy.  The Work Group’s examination uncovered six common characteristics shared by each of the successful Maine schools selected for in-depth review.  The characteristics that emerged were as follows:


            1.            Professional development is shared, ongoing, and supported in a number of ways;

            2.            Student performance data are used to improve student achievement;

            3.            School staff work together to find solutions to instructional issues;

            4.            Effective leadership is present, though it can come from people in different roles;

            5.            Parents and community are engaged in multiple ways; and

            6.            Various resources are used to respond to student’s needs.


            Each high-performing school also used a data-driven process to constantly revisit and upgrade the early literacy program being used.  Even though schools started in different places in their search for better literacy practices, common steps for making improvement were evident in each school.  Schools identified a literacy need by examining student achievement data and reviewed research for ideas to address the issue, set goals, then worked collaboratively to achieve those goals, and studies student achievement data for indications of improvement.


            Maine’s report rejects the simplistic debates raging about a singular, preferred, one-size-fits-all strategy for instruction (e.g., whole language vs. phonics).  Instead, the report emphasizes that good teachers of early reading and writing must have a wide and varied repertoire of strategies and interventions that they can tailor to an individual child’s needs.  In addition, the report finds it is critical that early literacy teachers stay current with research on best teaching practices.  Professional development and collaboration are crucial to nurturing and sharing these skills with Maine’s early elementary teachers.


            Maine school reform efforts begin and end with results, not with ideology.  There is no silver bullet for success.  It takes many tools and a lot of hard work.  Maine educators have been working hard for years, and have earned national recognition for their success in teaching reading.  This new report offers a renewed focus and sound model to take Maine students to the next level.  Early literacy is a gateway to further learning. 


            Registration information is attached.  This is one of the decade’s most important conferences.  Do not miss it!!    Click here  Conference Agenda & Registration Form


            Additional copies of the Report can be ordered.  Please call Jaci Holmes or Lee Anne Larsen at 287-3272 until December 22, 2000 or 624-6408 after January 2, 2001 and let them know how many copies you would like for your staff and school board members.