This January, elementary schools in Baltimore will use the STEP™ literacy tool to assess their students, joining national charter networks, top Chicago schools, and other public schools across the country.
“This is an important moment for us,” says Timothy Knowles, the John Dewey director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI). “Our mission is to improve the quality of urban schools nationwide and our efforts to improve literacy instruction at scale are beginning to take root.”
STEP™ (Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress), developed by UEI, is a formative assessment and instructional improvement tool that provides teachers and leaders with evidence about what students in pre-kindergarten through third grade know and need to learn as they develop their literacy skills. STEP is used to shape individual student learning plans that help teachers (1) differentiate instruction based on the unique and diverse needs of their students and (2) align all resources (people, academic and social supports; time and money) in the school with the specific diagnosed needs of individual students. A robust professional development strategy accompanies the implementation.
Molly Branson Thayer, UEI’s director of Literacy and leader of the national roll out of STEP, says, “We are very excited to work with Superintendent Andres Alonso and Chief Academic Officer Sonya Brookins Santelises to improve childrens' reading and teachers' instruction in Baltimore Public Schools. Their choice of STEP as a district literacy tool, with supporting professional development we provide, demonstrates their deep commitment to improving Baltimore City Schools.”
STEP is already used in some of the highest performing charter networks in the country including the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools.
Uncommon Schools’ leader, Bambrick-Santoyo says, “STEP is, hands down, the finest early literacy assessment I have encountered anywhere in the country. More than any other assessment, the STEP passages require deep inference and critical thinking starting at the earliest reading levels. This avoids the common error of many other literacy assessments that assume that we shouldn't assess critical reading until much later in a reader's development."
STEP is proving fruitful in Chicago schools as well. In a report recently released by Chicago Public Schools, five of the ten highest performing elementary charter schools use STEP to drive literacy improvement. And when Oprah Winfrey hosted a show dedicated to education on September 20 she awarded $1 million to LEARN Excel, one of the nation’s top performing schools. LEARN credits STEP for helping vastly improve literacy instruction and achievement.
Molly Branson Thayer expects STEP to lead to similar results in Baltimore. “We are excited that an urban school district has invested in a tool that is researched based, useful to teachers, and provides relevant student data to parents, teachers and school and district leaders.”