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Bridging the Literacy Gap: A Team Effort with REL Northwest and Washington's OSPI

Northwest | March 22, 2024

Our next blog in this nine-part series focusing on the work of REL Northwest takes us to the state of Washington. During early project planning, Washington's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) recognized a need to improve students' reading and writing proficiencies by providing clear priorities and broader goals for literacy education. Together, OSPI and REL Northwest are working to enhance students' literacy skills from preK through grade 12 through a literacy initiative that coordinates and aligns efforts across districts and schools. The initiative will review evidence-based literacy practices, identify gaps in literacy instruction, align professional development materials with evidence-based practices, and disseminate materials to support teachers. REL Northwest's partnership with OSPI has the potential to significantly improve literacy practices and contribute to equitable learning opportunities and success for all Washington students.

Understanding OSPI's literacy mission
OSPI's literacy initiative envisions a school system where teachers get the help they need to teach students how to read, write, speak, listen, and think critically using both books and real-life experiences. Their goal is for all students to enjoy reading and have the same opportunities for strong literacy lessons. At the state level, teaching methods, lesson plans, and tests are all aligned, and pre-service teachers are prepared with instructional strategies around literacy.

Initial challenges
In a statewide survey, Washington teachers requested additional supports from OSPI to improve reading instruction. As a result, OSPI requested REL Northwest's support to incorporate research as the state develops its preK–12 literacy framework and associated professional learning programs and materials. As part of the partnership work, REL Northwest is gathering feedback from nationally recognized literacy experts to make sure the statewide literacy plan reflects current literacy research.

OSPI aims to create a lasting statewide literacy framework that supports districts and schools as they implement literacy teaching and learning practices supported by research. To begin, OSPI reviewed and revised state reading standards. With the support of REL Northwest, OSPI developed an initial draft framework based on evidence-based practices that specifies how to support teacher learning and communicates actionable strategies to all staff. During initial work together, an OSPI leader stated, "I am a 'go slow to go fast' type of person. [I] appreciate slowing things down to hone in, focus, and go deep [with the work]."

REL Northwest is currently facilitating professional learning sessions with the OSPI team to develop a statewide needs assessment to gather teachers' insights about their current literacy teaching and learning practices and their needs for literacy-specific professional learning opportunities. Subsequent sessions will focus on integrating results from the survey, along with evidence-based practices, into a literacy framework and related professional development materials to support teachers in enhancing their classroom literacy practice. During an initial professional learning session, an OSPI participant stated, "The discussions were pushing my thoughts. Knowing this will reach across the state is powerful work."

Looking forward
Looking ahead, REL Northwest is excited to help OSPI support teachers' implementation of evidence-based literacy practices. For example, pulling from the guide Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade,1 early literacy teachers may learn strategies to help students identify syllables in words as a way to recognize and manipulate segments of sound in language. At later grades, upper elementary and middle school teachers can learn from the guide Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grade 4-92 and provide multiple opportunities for students to ask and answer questions to make sense of the text as they read.

As teachers increasingly implement the skills and knowledge of evidence-based literacy practices they build through professional development materials and modules, we expect to see increases in student achievement and equitable outcomes for all students in literacy—a big achievement for everyone. OSPI and REL Northwest understand the importance of implementing evidence-based practices, and together, we have a better chance of making a difference.

Be on the lookout for more stories about how REL Northwest is teaming up with states and districts to improve education outcomes for students!


  • For more information on our work with OSPI, please visit our partnership page to see current projects, completed projects, and the logic model.

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1 Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., Furgeson, J., Hayes, L., Henke, J., Justice, L., Keating, B., Lewis, W., Sattar, S., Streke, A., Wagner, R., & Wissel, S. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade (NCEE 2016-4008). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE).

2 Vaughn, S., Gersten, R., Dimino, J., Taylor, M. J., Newman-Gonchar, R., Krowka, S., Kieffer, M. J., McKeown, M., Reed, D., Sanchez, M., St. Martin, K., Wexler, J., Morgan, S., Yañez, A., & Jayanthi, M. (2022). Providing reading interventions for students in grades 4–9 (WWC 2022007). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE).


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