A case study of successful early literacy instruction in a Texas elementary school
The problem of the reading achievement gap could be ameliorated by gaining an in-depth understanding of the practices implemented by educators on an elementary campus where achievement gaps have been eliminated and economically disadvantaged students excel academically. The challenge to reducing educational inequities among economically disadvantaged students is enormous due to the many factors associated with poverty as impeding educational achievement. However, successful, high performing schools serving high rates of economically disadvantaged students do exist. More information is needed about the practices of educators on elementary campuses where economically disadvantaged students thrive academically. The purpose of the study was to examine how elementary educators ensure third grade students in a school with at least 90% of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds achieve and sustain performance of at least 90% passing at the approaches grade-level reading performance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) Reading assessment. One elementary school represented the case study for interviewing the principal and conducting four focus groups: (1) kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 teachers, (2) Grade 3 teachers, (3) central office staff, and (4) parents of students who attend the school. The qualitative study followed a case study design with one successful school. The interview and focus groups allowed for gathering data via open-ended questions with central office personnel, the principal, kindergarten through Grade 3 teachers, and parents about the campus’s organization (or academic culture) and district-wide practices. Artifacts and documents were collected and coded to contribute to the findings. The multiple data sources offered the opportunity to triangulate data and ascertain themes. Two themes that emerged addressing the resources and supports that increase reading achievement were: (a) all-hands-on-deck academic support and (b) standardized curriculum resources. Three themes that emerged addressing educational practices that improved reading skills of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds were: (a) connecting writing with reading, (b) use of assessment data, and (c) differentiating instruction. Finally, three themes that emerged about the aspects of academic culture that promote and sustain high reading achievement were: (a) community relationships built on trust and communication, (b) celebrating reading, and (c) COVID-19 affected school culture. Although COVID-19 was not explicitly mentioned in the research questions, several participants mentioned the global pandemic in their responses, and it was found to have affected the academic culture of the school. This case study of success by a single campus in one district could be used to guide elementary school leaders and superintendents striving to address the reading needs of their economically disadvantaged students. The findings contribute to understanding how school leadership, culture, curriculum, instruction, and teacher support affect high-poverty schools’ third grade students’ outcomes on state standardized reading tests. Statewide policies might be influenced in the future.