Building Capacity for Literacy Instruction

What's New

UChicago Impact works with school districts and charter networks nationwide on getting more students on track to reading proficiency. In 2012, UChicago Impact’s STEP team began working with Community of Peace Academy (CPA), an elementary school in the Minneapolis-St. Paul school district, on interpreting STEP formative literacy assessment data and improving literacy instruction. STEP is a research-based formative assessment, data management, and professional learning system designed to build teacher capacity for literacy instruction and provide educators with the data necessary to improve student achievement in literacy across grade levels. While their work to foster reading proficiency among all students is not over, CPA has made impressive gains since making serious investments—through grants, mindset, and consistent efforts—in students’ literacy achievement.


In the course of just two academic years, between the end of the 2013-14 academic year and the end of the 2016-17 academic year, CPA saw the percentage of its students on-track to literacy proficiency increase by 24 percent. 

Why It Matters

According to the most recently published National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, 80 percent of low-income fourth graders and 66 percent of all fourth graders are not proficient in reading, and fostering early reading proficiency is critical. The earlier children fall behind in developing literacy skills, the more difficult it becomes for them to catch up to grade-level peers—a trend we see reflected in the nation’s adult population. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, nearly 1 in 7 American adults lack basic literacy skills, many of whom have obtained a high school diploma. 


Teaching students to read is one of the hardest jobs in education and, traditionally, it has been seen as the responsibility of primary school teachers. However, a 2016 study commissioned by the American Institutes for Research found that mastering complex literacy skills requires lifelong learning and that many students lose literacy skills before they can ever use them in their careers—with automation in the workforce perpetuating the problem. This study and others underscore the need to expand literacy instruction to students in higher grade levels and, this year, UChicago Impact is working with schools across the country to deepen foundational literacy skills for older students with its new STEP Gray and Burgundy series.