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Transformative Journey: Baltimore City Public Schools’ Continuous Improvement in Literacy

In the 2018-19 school year, through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation raised by the Fund for Educational Excellence, Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) launched its first continuous improvement (CI) project in alignment with the district’s Blueprint for Success. The initiative was called the Baltimore Secondary Literacy Improvement Community (BSLIC), composed of a network of middle and high schools collectively dedicated to enhancing literacy performance.

The project aimed to identify, support, and empower literacy instructors through the Teacher Improvement Fellowship. Through this, teachers collectively studied the challenges in their schools, implemented evidence-based solutions, rigorously analyzed results, and iterated on their strategies through ongoing continuous improvement cycles. Through various cycles and explorations, teachers identified six essential components for effective fluency instruction.

The most striking outcome was the substantial improvement in students’ fluency, with participants doubling their trajectory as measured by national norms. For example, eighth grade students who participated in the Fellowship started the year at the 20th percentile, on average in Words Correct Per Minute (WCPM). By the end of the year, they grew to the 44th percentile, on average on WCPM. Students who stayed at the 20th percentile would only grow minimally on their fluency as indicated by the gray line.

Beyond quantitative outcomes, the team expressed pride in the qualitative impact on teacher practice. Zachary Jaffe, drawing from his 15 years of high school teaching experience, highlighted the difficulty in addressing foundational literacy skills without a structured approach. The fellowship not only made foundational reinforcement accessible and feasible to middle school teachers but also promoted a growth mindset. The impact extended to teachers viewing data relevant to their classrooms and embracing the message that what you try out in the classroom doesn’t have to be perfect the first time but evolves through continuous improvement.

Amiee Winchester emphasized that the key takeaway isn’t solely the success of fluency intervention but the commitment to approaching the problem differently. By combining continuous improvement practices and mindsets, high-quality curriculum materials, effective teaching, and essential resources, the district found a way to make foundational literacy reinforcement accessible in middle school grades. Zachary Jaffe stressed the importance of providing teachers a voice, allowing their expertise to guide the improvement, and establishing structured continuous improvement routines has contributed to progressing results.

Baltimore City Public Schools’ continuous improvement journey in literacy showcases a commitment to innovation, collaboration, and adaptability. While fluency intervention played a crucial role, the broader shift in mindset and approaches is what truly marks this initiative as transformative.

The Fund for Educational Excellence was proud to raise the funding and manage all spending for this important initiative.

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