The Literacy Lab’s mission is to provide low-income children with individualized reading instruction to improve their literacy skills, leading to greater success in school and increased opportunities in life.
The Literacy Lab’s top accomplishments over the past year include:
In Virginia, the achievement gap is measurable before children reach Kindergarten. Per the 2016 Virginia School Readiness Report Card, 24% of Hispanic students, 20% of economically disadvantaged students, and 12% of Black students require literacy intervention to be Kindergarten ready, compared to 8% of students overall. This gap has a significant impact on elementary literacy proficiency rates in high-need regions of the state. In the Richmond area, where there are large concentrations of low-income families, students are consistently not prepared for third grade reading proficiency, a critical early indicator of high school graduation. In 2015-16, only 9% of third grade students attending schools in Petersburg and 11% in Richmond were proficient in reading.
To address this gap, our most pressing needs include:
In 2015, 64% of all U.S. fourth grade students were not proficient in reading. The percentage of minority or low-income students who are not proficient in reading is even higher. For example, approximately 82% of black fourth grade students were not proficient in reading (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2015). The gravity of this problem is undeniable – those students who do not read on grade level by fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate high school (Hernandez, 2011).
Teach for America alumna Ashley Johnson co-founded The Literacy Lab after she saw firsthand the urgency of improving literacy in low-income communities. As a teacher in Washington, DC, her 9th grade students were only able to read on a third grade level. The Literacy Lab works to catch struggling readers at a younger age and give them the strong foundation in literacy they need to succeed. Since 2009, the organization has served more than 6,000 children at risk for reading failure.
In 2012, The Literacy Lab was selected as a national replication partner for the Reading Corps model. Through this partnership, The Literacy Lab has dramatically increased its reach by implementing a sustainable, research- and evidence-based early literacy intervention model in partnership with school districts. The organization has grown from working with 17 schools in 2012 to 85 schools in 2016. In addition, The Literacy Lab contributes to a high-quality teacher pipeline by training hundreds of early-career educators each year. Of the 205 tutors trained and coached over the last three years, 53% have remained in the education field by continuing in a teacher preparation program or attending graduate school in education.
The organization’s long-term goal is to bring its literacy intervention programming to scale in communities with a history of low-literacy achievement. It envisions an early literacy safety net that ensures disadvantaged students between age three and grade three have access to the support they need to read on grade-level by third grade no matter where they live or happen to attend school.
When I founded The Literacy Lab with my Co-Executive Director, Tom Dillon, we wanted to give young children a better chance at success through individualized literacy support. Now, just seven years later, we have built a smart, efficient and hard-working organization that has a real impact on schools’ capacity to support individual students’ literacy growth in five cities across the country.
The key to our success is a strong team of passionate education and literacy experts who adhere to our core values – Going Above and Beyond, Strong Relationships, Careful Use of Resources, Giving the Best to Those Who Need it Most, and Impact. By aligning our work with these values, we can act with urgency to provide the literacy support children need to be prepared for the rest of their lives. Examples of our values in action include:
Going Above and Beyond: We constantly look for ways to help our students build literacy skills faster. Because our tutors work over 40 hours each week, they often collaborate with their school sites to incorporate literacy activities into after school programs, in addition to providing literacy interventions throughout the school day. Last year, two tutors created an afterschool program called “Lab Learners” to provide literacy interventions to 40 additional preschool and Kindergarten students at their school site every day.
Strong Relationships: The Literacy Lab’s model encourages effective collaboration between our program staff, tutors and partner teachers at our school sites. In one classroom, the tutor, lead teacher and teaching assistant developed “Literacy Week” to encourage greater family engagement. Last year, 98% of school principals chose to continue their partnership with us, which is significant because most contribute financial resources as well.
Careful Use of Resources: We strive to make every dollar count by planning ahead, being resourceful and staying organized. The majority of our funding goes directly to our program costs.
Giving the Best to Those Who Need it Most: We ensure that our research- and evidence-based programming delivers excellent literacy support to every child every time. We provide rigorous training to our tutors as well as support from Master Coaches with advanced degrees in education. Last year, our tutors implemented interventions with an average fidelity rate of 95%.
Impact: We know that what we do makes a difference in the lives and literacy skills of the children we serve. Our staff and board believe in our mission and work hard to constantly improve our results.
The Literacy Lab has partnered with Richmond, Henrico and Petersburg City Public Schools to close the literacy achievement gaps at their highest-need elementary schools. In 2015-16, only 9% of third grade students attending schools in Petersburg and 11% in Richmond were proficient in reading. In Henrico, 74% of all third grade students could read on grade level, compared to approximately 60-62% of black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students (VA-SOL, 2015).
Ashley Johnson is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Literacy Lab. Prior to founding The Literacy Lab, Ashley worked as a Special Education teacher and coordinator at public and charter schools in the District of Columbia. Ashley was a Teach For America Metro DC corps member. Ashley earned her Master’s degree in Special Education from American University and her Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania.
Tom Dillon is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Literacy Lab. With a background in foreign language instruction, Tom brings an understanding of language acquisition and linguistic processes to the organization. Tom has experience teaching, coaching, and working in a number of academic programs in the Washington, D.C. area. Tom earned a Bachelor’s degree in European Studies at The College of William and Mary and holds a Certificate in Contemporary Europe from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
The Literacy Lab’s relationships with schools, teachers, administrators, and other leaders in closing the literacy gap are critical to its success. In Virginia, The Literacy Lab partners with Richmond, Petersburg City, and Henrico County Public Schools to embed rigorously-trained tutors in high-need elementary schools to reach children at risk for third grade reading failure. The organization also benefits from the support of the Virginia General Assembly, which provides financial support and connections to school districts.
Finally, The Literacy Lab benefits from a formal partnership with the Minnesota Reading Corps, which provides technical support to implement the research- and evidence-based literacy intervention program as well as annual external evaluations.
The Literacy Lab has partnered with Richmond, Henrico, and Petersburg City Public Schools to close the literacy achievement gaps at their highest-need elementary schools. In 2015-16, only 9% of third grade students attending schools in Petersburg and 11% in Richmond were proficient in reading. In Henrico, 74% of all third grade students could read on grade level, compared to approximately 60-62% of black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students (VA-SOL, 2015).
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