AZ Program Speeds Up Early Literacy with Acceleration Zones

Read On Arizona is sponsoring a multi-site, three-year collaboration called the Acceleration Zone Project to speed up the rate of literacy among young students entering school. (MohdHafiaz/AdobeStock)

PHOENIX – Read On Arizona, the state’s program to provide students with basic literacy skills by the third grade, is looking to accelerate the process.

In 2018, the program created the Acceleration Zone Project in various cities and school districts to focus on effective, equitable and accelerated early literacy results.

The Acceleration Zone Project concentrates on reaching children entering preschool with lower skill levels and making sure they are successful by the third grade.

Terri Clark, literacy director of Read On Arizona, says the program found early on children were making progress too slowly to meet their goals.

“It has been over the last four years making progress, but it’s been 1 to 2 percent gains each year,” she points out. “And if we’re going to meet the goals of the Arizona Progress Meter has set out for us, we realized that we needed almost a rocket launch to improve early literacy – now.”

Clark says the program has designated six Acceleration Zones across the state, with sites in Phoenix, Yuma, Chandler, Flagstaff, Tempe and Avondale.

Participants will meet over the course of the 36-month program to collaborate with other sites and share their knowledge and experience.

Clark says through the program, the sites will share data, contributing factors to success, and policy support needed to scale their work.

She says collaboration is the key to accelerating the learning process.

“Some of those zones have some incredible examples of strong early literacy systems that are doing what they’re meant to do and have the supports and services,” she states. “Then, as they reach that third-grade milestone, they’re more likely to hit proficiency marks that we’ve set out for them.”

One of the Acceleration Zones is in Chandler, where program leader Joanne Floth says the program uses data to identify incoming students expected to benefit from the extra effort.

“We have about 70 percent of our kiddos in two ZIP codes to come to school not having those skills to be able to succeed in kindergarten,” she states. “So, our goal is that we have 70 percent of children that are starting school and having those skills to be successful readers by third grade.”

The program began in September 2018 and will develop a policy action plan though shared results and collaboration in September 2020.