Bermuda Public School System: Improving Our Students’ Literacy Skills

Friday, February 14th, 2020

 

Ministerial Statement To The House of Assembly, The Hon. Diallo Rabain, JP, MP

Mr. Speaker,

This morning I am very pleased to rise before this Honorable House to share with my Honourable colleagues, the progress the Department of Education is making to improve the literacy skills of our public school students. 

Mr. Speaker,

As you are aware, the mission of the Bermuda Public School System is to provide all students with equitable access to holistic, varied and high-quality instruction, that is culturally relevant and empowers students to reach their full potential. Let me share a quote by Kofi Anan, the seventh General Secretary of the United Nations. He said, “Literacy is … the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.  

Mr. Speaker,

Our children are the future leaders of this Island, and we want every child in the Bermuda Public School System to function at their full potential, fulfill their destiny, and be the contributing citizens both locally and globally. The Department of Education is fully cognizant of the literacy foundation needed, and is making the improvement of literacy skills a priority for students at both the pre and primary school levels. As such, the Department of Education has identified the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum, a curriculum which focuses on rhyme activities as one that will set our preschoolers and primary school students on a path for good reading success. This curriculum has already been implemented in all preschools and P1 and P2 classrooms; and, is also being used for students in our ASD programmes.  

Mr. Speaker,

I reflect back. It was in April 2019 that the Reading Clinic partnered with the Department of Education for three days of teacher training in the I-PLAY (Interactive Phonological Literacy Activities for Youngsters) intervention programme offered at four of the Government preschools.  Primary School Principals, P1, P2, Learning Support and also Reading teachers from each of the 18 Primary schools were invited to hear about the I-PLAY intervention programme. Also shared was the research behind the programme and the potential results or gains that could be achieved. Subsequent to this training, the Department of Education engaged in in-depth research of options for teaching explicit phonological awareness. After consultation with the Reading Clinic, the Department of Education made an informed decision based on the needs of our children, to invest in the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum.

Mr. Speaker,

Later, in September 2019, we are pleased to say that Preschool Administrators and Primary School Principals in the Bermuda Public School System were introduced to the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum for use with students in our preschool, P1 and P2 classrooms.  Classroom teachers received curricula documents at the beginning of October 2019, and completed the relevant training on how to effectively deliver the curriculum in the classroom. All lessons for this phonemic awareness curriculum are conducted verbally, with no letters shown as students are taught to listen, pay attention to, and manipulate the individual sounds in words.  The rationale for including a curriculum for explicitly teaching our students these foundational language skills, is to prevent later challenges in reading.  Some examples of the skills students are taught include:

  • Rhyme, initially recognizing and later producing rhyming words
  • Identifying the first sound, the middle sound or the final sound in a word
  • Combining two words to make compound word (Blending)
  • Separating a compound word into its component words or syllables (Segmenting)
  • Changing a sound within a word to make a new word (Substituting)

Mr. Speaker,

This Phonemic Awareness programme also includes assessments that will enable the Department of Education to measure each student’s growth.  This same assessment can be extended to use with students in P3 classes or above who may need more instruction and practice in Phonological Awareness skills to improve their reading skills.

Mr. Speaker,

I am equally pleased to share that we have also implemented a literacy programme called Achieve3000 in four schools in the Western Zone, which include Sandys Secondary Middle School, Somerset Primary School, West End Primary School and Dalton E. Tucker Primary School. Although this programme has been in place since October 2018, after much success, especially for our male students, the programme continues to date. All Primary 4 through Primary 6 students at these Primary schools as well as the students at Sandys Secondary Middle School have an online profile to measure and track their reading comprehension progress via online assessments that are carried out in the Fall, mid-year and in the Spring.

Mr. Speaker,

Not only does Achieve3000 provide assessments, but it has an immense bank of articles and resources for use with a whole class, or as an intervention tool.  Teachers are able to assign specific articles to students to read and respond to online questions, with each article presented at twelve (12) different levels so that every student in the class can be reading the same content, but at vocabulary and text length that is based on their reading level. Students must demonstrate their understanding of each article by answering questions on that article.  The goal is for students to achieve an average score of 75% or above on their first attempt at answering the questions. If they do these two or more times a week, they are able to potentially achieve more than three times the expected growth in their reading scores within a single school year than if they did not use the programme. Parents are also able to access their child’s profiles to monitor the activities completed and progress made.

Mr. Speaker,

Professional Development training for staff is critical when implementing new programmes. Therefore, each school is supported by twice-yearly webinars and Achieve3000 representatives visit the island to facilitate teacher and principal training, as well as model how to use the programme through class demonstrations. The Achieve3000 representatives will be on island next month to visit each school, provide feedback to the class teachers, and work with the school Principals and Department of Education Staff to get the most out of this exciting programme.

 Mr. Speaker,

As our students improve their literacy skills, it is important to determine their growth and improvement.  The Department of Education will use the Gates McGinitie Reading Assessment to determine growth for students in the Bermuda Public School System. While some schools within the Bermuda Public School System have used the “Gates” over many years, the 2019-2020 academic year is the first time that the Department has used an assessment tool across all schools from the P4 to the S4 class levels. The first test was administered in the fall of 2019 and the second test will be administered in the Spring of 2020 so that the Department can measure and track the growth of student reading levels over that period time. 

Mr. Speaker,

As of the Fall of 2020, the Department of Education will assess the reading skills of students from P1 to S4.  I am pleased about this because we will be able to see the extent of growth for each child, every year. This is notable for Bermuda because when the question is asked, how are our students doing in reading?  We will be positioned with good solid data to report on the progress of all students, not just a few year levels, as was the practice in the past.

Mr. Speaker,

The introduction of the Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Curriculum at the preschool and Primary 1 and 2 classroom levels; the implementation of the Achieve3000 literacy programme; and, the use of the Gates assessment tool for the first time across Primary 4 to Secondary 4 class levels; are all part of the on-going execution of Plan 2022 – the strategic plan for our public school system. A key outcome stipulated in Plan 2022 is that 75% of our students will be proficient in reading by the time they reach Primary 3. This is an indication that we are on that path and moving forward. This is all part of the transformation of our public school education.

Mr. Speaker,

In conclusion, let me thank our school teachers, Principals and Department of Education Staff for their commitment to improving the literacy skills of our students; and, for challenging our students to reach their full potential.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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