UO to lead national comprehensive literacy center


The University of Oregon’s Center on Teaching and Learning — working in partnership with Florida State University’s Florida Center for Reading Research and RMC Research Corporation — has received a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help improve literacy through evidence-based interventions and assessments. The new technical assistance center, which launched officially in October, will support schools across the country to translate and apply existing research to help students with disabilities attain full literacy skills.

Hank Fien, director of the Center on Teaching and Learning, will lead the new entity, the National Comprehensive Center to Improve Literacy for Students with Disabilities. Deputy directors Yaacov Petscher from FSU and Sarah Sayko from RMC will provide key leadership for the center. The goal of the partnership is to provide parents and education organizations access to the most relevant and reliable approaches to screening, identifying and supporting students with literacy-related disabilities, including dyslexia.

Hank Fien“The center will be an arbiter of the most rigorous research on reading and literacy and will translate this research for schools, parents, state education departments, Head Start programs, early childhood centers, parent advocacy groups and others,” Fien said. “Our charge is to make sure that these school practitioners, administrators, and parents have access to the highest quality, current, and most relevant research and tools to support their implementation of evidence-based practices.”

“By leveraging existing and emerging research generated by experts in literacy, and blending findings with novel technologies, we have the opportunity to equip and resource individuals who are invested in student education in a unique way,” Petscher said.

Many of the resources that will be disseminated through the center to create better outcomes for students already exist, Fien said. These include published research studies, online clearinghouses that summarize current research evidence for instructional practices and assessments, and resources from regional technical assistance centers. Over the past several decades, researchers have amassed a wide body of research on literacy and disabilities. The challenge, which the new center is seeking to tackle, is how to best put that information in the hands of teachers, families and other consumers to improve literacy and create better outcomes for young children and students with disabilities.

In many areas of prevention and intervention of literacy difficulties, Fien said, there exists what Dr. Sally Shaywitz of Yale University has described as an “action gap,” not a knowledge gap, in improving schools’ day-to-day practices. Shaywitz is a consultant to the project.

“National and state data continue to show persistent gaps in reading achievement between students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities,” said Larry Wexler, director of the Research to Practice Division at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs. “Schools continue to struggle with interpreting research and selecting interventions and assessments that have evidence for improving reading outcomes for students with disabilities. They also struggle with implementing evidence-based practices with high levels of fidelity. This Center is designed to address these concerns.”

The new center’s goals can be divided into three areas: centralizing, translating and localizing the evidence base. Initially the focus will be on identifying and centralizing research into an online repository. The research will then be translated and delivered to parent resource centers and professional development programs for teachers and school leaders. Subsequently, evidence-based products will be disseminated on the local level to regionally diverse schools, agencies, and parents.

In addition to parents, teachers and school districts, the new center will also partner with colleges of education to ensure that future generations of teachers will have access to the same goals and best practices.

“There’s a focus on working with institutes of higher education to ensure that their syllabi and courses reflect current scientific evidence on how to screen and identify students and provide them with services,” Fien said. “Working with Deans for Impact, a national group composed of the deans from numerous colleges of education, and other related groups, will help to ensure teacher prep programs are training teachers to effectively work with students who have a range of literacy-related disabilities.”

The center will also provide opportunities for prospective and current graduate students in the UO College of Education to be a part of developing new knowledge and translating current knowledge to improve outcomes for students with literacy-related disabilities and the schools and districts that serve them.

CTL has longstanding relationships with both of its partners in the new center. The UO has been working with FSU’s Florida Center for Reading Research for more than two decades on issues related to literacy assessments and interventions. Much of the research to improve outcomes for students with literacy-related disabilities has been developed at the UO with current and past College of Education professors such as Ed Kame’enui, Jerry Tindal, David Chard, and Deb Simmons, Fien said.

These UO faculty have had a longstanding tradition of working with FSU faculty to develop a robust evidence base in screening, identification and intervention methods, Fien said. RMC Research Corporation has been a partner to the UO and FSU on numerous projects, focusing on parent engagement and parent advocacy, and large-scale technical assistance efforts to state education systems.

Established in 2000, CTL focuses on conducting rigorous research to address problems in school systems and to create better outcomes for children. With a staff of more than 70 employees — ranging from prin­cipal investigators to research associates to highly trained technical staff developing web platforms and educational gaming platforms — it is one of the UO’s largest research centers that addresses serious but practical problems in school systems — with an emphasis on reading and mathematics skill development.

Over the last decade, CTL has received close to $70 million in sponsored awards for numerous projects. Much of the center’s basic research has led to the creation of instructional and assessment material and techniques. CTL is also home to the official UO DIBELS Data System, which provides schools across the U.S. with screening and progress monitoring reports for DIBELS and EasyCBM reading and math measures — both developed with support from the Office of Special Education Programs. CTL has generated approximately $30 million in licensing and fee revenue in the last ten years and redirects 100 percent of its revenue to further educational research and development efforts.

The funding cycle for the new award is five years, but, Fien said he hopes the center will be a national and international go-to entity for how to improve literacy outcomes for students for many years to come.