Sadly, the latest NAEP results have dropped significantly since 2017. Despite years of widely-available early literacy tools, average reading scores for 4th and 8th graders in the United States are headed in the wrong direction.
At Mountain View Whisman School District (MVWSD) in California, we have an inherent appreciation of literacy education challenges, given our highly diverse population. Our students range from highly-advanced to students who struggle to reach grade-level performance. In the 2018-19 academic year, 2 in 3 students were non-white; 1 in 3 students were socioeconomically disadvantaged; and 1 in 4 were English-language learners, representing 50 native languages.
As Chief Academic Officer of the district, it’s my responsibility to support our teachers with the best possible tools to help all students. I’m always on the lookout for interventions that have a strong foundation in research and can be flexible enough to meet our highly diverse populations’ needs. Our district’s mission is to “inspire, prepare and empower every student.” Helping all of our students become better readers is a crucial part of achieving this mission.
In 2018, I was introduced to Square Panda. I am always careful when introducing new technology in our schools, but when I saw how it worked up close, I thought simply, “I wish I’d had this when I was teaching.” Square Panda is a multisensory, phonics-based approach that builds kids’ foundational reading skills. It’s best-suited for pre- and emergent-readers, as part of an overall literacy curriculum.