HISD wins third national Magna Award for Literacy By 3 efforts

The Houston Independent School District this week received its third national Magna Award, an honor designed to recognize school districts and their leaders for taking bold, innovative steps to improve the lives of students and their communities.

The district received the first-place Magna Award for its Literacy By 3 program, which strives to have all students reading and writing fluently by the end of third grade. HISD is one of five first-place winners in the over 20,000 enrollment category.

“Literacy By 3 aims to have 100 percent of third-graders reading at or above grade level by 2019,” HISD Board of Education President Manual Rodriguez Jr. told more than 2,000 educators and community members when he announced the award at the State of the Schools luncheon on March 3. “Literacy is the foundation for all learning.”

HISD launched Literacy By 3 in 2014 after declaring illiteracy as a citywide crisis. Through the initiative, more than 5,000 elementary teachers were trained on a consistent method of teaching young students to read. Students are grouped by reading level to allow teachers to focus on those who need the most help, and classrooms are outfitted with a variety of books that are customized to students’ reading levels.

Community volunteers also play a role through programs such as Read Houston Read. HISD has recruited more than 600 volunteers to participate in the Read Houston Read program, which brings community members into the classroom to work with and read to the district’s most struggling students. Other literacy partners include the Neuhaus Education Center, Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Innovations for Learning, Making It Better, and Children’s Museum of Houston.

Following the program’s launch, the district saw a two-point increase in third grade reading scores — with 70 percent of students meeting state standards. That two-point gain outpaced the overall gain made by the state.

“It is absolutely imperative that we address the illiteracy crisis facing our city and our district,” Interim Superintendent Ken Huewitt said. “Literacy serves as the foundation, the cornerstone for every facet of education, every subject studied, every course taken. If you can’t read, it impacts every part of your life.”

A story on Literacy By 3 will be featured in the April issue of the American School Board Journal, and the district will be formally recognized on Sat., April 9, at the Best Practices for School Leaders Luncheon, part of NSBA’s 76th Annual Conference in Boston. In addition, the district’s winning entry will be posted at www.nsba.org/asbj.