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COE professors strike three-year agreement to improve child literacy in the US Virgin Islands

Professors Kame'enui and Fien meet with USVI officials

Two professors in the UO College of Education (COE) have spearheaded a three-year agreement with the US Virgin Islands (USVI) to improve reading performance among elementary-aged students across the St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John islands.

Edward Kame’enui, PhD, is the Dean–Knight Professor of Special Education and founding director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), which began at the COE. Hank Fien, PhD, is an associate professor of school psychology and the current director of CTL. They met with USVI Governor Kenneth Mapp and Commissioner of Education Sharon McCollum in early December to discuss strategies to improve reading achievement in the territories, where recent data suggests that only 13 percent of third-graders are meeting reading-proficiency standards. Improving that statistic through evidence-based programs and practices is a priority of Mapp’s administration.

Commissioner McCollum invited Kame’enui and Fien to meet with education representatives from each of the islands to garner their support for their recommendations, which include increased attention to early intervention and prevention research and the use of implementation science to scale up and sustain evidence-based programs and practices.

With the unanimous support of building leaders across each of the islands, officials agreed to a three-year commitment to improve reading achievement. USVI will hire literacy coaches to support each of the schools and contract with CTL to provide ongoing professional development and deep technical assistance to build local capacity and expertise in early reading improvement models.

Fien said, “I applaud their decision to invest in local reading coaches to increase local capacity to implement evidence-based reading instruction. They are determined to take ownership over the reading initiative and I think that sets the stage for success.”

Kame’enui and Carl Cole, PhD, former director of special services for Bethel School District and a long time collaborator of the COE, established the relationship between CTL and USVI. The school-wide reading model they developed together in Bethel more than 20 years ago still serves as the basis for CTL’s outreach efforts across states and districts to improve early reading outcomes.

Enhancing Core Reading Instruction (ECRI), developed and tested at CTL by Fien, Scott Baker, PhD, and Jeanie Smith, PhD, will be provided to USVI via an open license to broaden the impact of evidence-based programs. They have been working closely with Chuck Williams, associate vice president for innovation at the UO, to establish open-license agreements with districts, states, and other entities such as the USVI to widely implement evidence-based programs in exchange for access to student performance information and other data sources to further study the programs when implemented at scale.

The USVI ECRI Reading Initiative will kick off in early spring 2016. Governor Mapp acknowledged CTL and the new partnership in his January 15 State of the Territory Address.