Reading Teacher

Science of Reading in Action: 3 Impacts of Early Literacy Funding in a CA Elementary School

Science of Reading in Action: 3 Impacts of Early Literacy Funding in a CA Elementary School

National reading assessments continue to show the toll of COVID-19 learning loss, with some suggesting almost 4 months of reading learning loss as of July 2021. At Nystrom Elementary, a Bay Area School in CA, new funding from the Early Literacy Support Block Grant is working to remedy these losses, with a focus on preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps among historically disadvantaged students. Today, we explore 3 positive impacts of early literacy funding at Nystrom Elementary, which serves as a model for other schools.

science of reading
  • Bridges the achievement gap for historically marginalized groups of students

At Nystrom, many students are learning to read and learning English at the same time. Others struggle with learning disabilities or poverty, further limiting opportunities for reading success. For these students, explicit phonics instruction - and enough phonics instruction, at least 30 minutes a day - is crucial to a strong reading foundation. To meet all of their students’ needs, Nystrom has introduced EL Education and the Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words program (SIPPS), both of which are phonics-heavy and grounded in the science of reading. Increasingly, schools are recognizing that learning to read is not natural like learning to talk or walk: a reality that is especially resonant for English language learners, students of color, and all other students who face barriers to literacy.


Nystrom's newest reading material is designed to reflect the cultural makeup of California students, acknowledging the prior lack of culturally reflective reading material. In any school district, literacy funds can be used to introduce age-appropriate books that address diversity, equity, and inclusion themes, helping students make real-life connections and grow cultural appreciation.

  • Encourages more intentional use of reading assessments.

To measure the success of its literacy curricula changes, Nystrom tested its students at the beginning and middle of the year using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), which predicts whether students’ reading skills will develop on track during the year or if they need additional support. While Nystrom’s fall assessment showed that 61% of all students did not have grade-specific reading skills, there was significant improvement among first and fourth graders based on the mid-year assessment. Across all grades, oral fluency rose sharply, meaning that students could better comprehend and read texts out loud. The use of DIBELS to measure incremental success of a new reading curriculum - better yet, one based on the science of reading - shows that when reading assessments are used strategically, their data can offer encouragement and guidance for both educators and students.


  • Paves the pathway to personal and professional fulfillment.

Nystrom’s use of its early literacy funding ultimately reflects its belief in - and commitment to - its students. Nystrom teachers are united by a belief that all of their kids can read: they just need a reading curriculum that honors their needs and incorporates the science of reading, combined with appropriate testing to identify challenges. Since switching from Units of Study for Teaching Reading English/Language Arts to the phonics-heavy curricula, more Nystrom students expected to end the year on track, increasing their confidence, likelihood of educational and professional success, and overall well-being.


While adopting a science-based reading curriculum seems like an obvious choice, it’s also an expensive one. Textbook changes can cost more than $1 million, pushing the already strained budgets of many school districts. In light of these expenses, the small yet promising changes at Nystrom illustrate that by devoting proper time, attention, and funds to early literacy, the long-term benefits for students are likely to justify the upfront investment.

learning child


  • New funding for early literacy programs in the West Contra Costa Unified school district in CA prompted a reading curriculum overhaul at Nystrom Elementary, driven by the science of reading and the unique needs of its student population.
  • Students’ mid-year DIBELS scores show significant improvements in students’ grade-level reading skills, oral fluency, and phonemic awareness.
  • These small-yet-significant changes show the need for more early literacy funding to bridge reading gaps between historically disadvantaged students, encourage more strategic reading assessments, and ultimately give children the confidence to succeed as students and adults.

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