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Catch kids before they fall

By Laurie Borkon, Vice President of Government Affairs

I believe that education is the only way to social justice. That belief led me to an undergraduate degree in elementary education and a master’s in curriculum and instruction, with a reading specialist emphasis. Since those days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it seems that our nation’s attention to K-3 reading has come into increasingly sharper focus. And, collectively, our approaches to assessment, instruction, intervention, and practice have become more consistent.

As a country, we agree that one of the fundamental goals of education is to help every child learn to read. For decades, many of us in education, and in all the areas that impact education, have asked the questions:

• How are we going to ensure every child learns to read?

• What is it going to take to get there?

We now have a sufficient research base, thanks to decades of work from experts in the field so that we can screen kids, provide targeted instruction and intervention, and maximize our precious instructional time.

In the 14 years I’ve been at Renaissance, I’ve been honored to be part of the growing movement to build a culture of data literacy and data fluency within schools and districts. This allows us to more systematically spot struggling readers and ensure all students get the support they need to become successful readers.

At Renaissance, we never lose sight of the faces and the voices of the teachers and the students behind the data. One of my mentors is an elementary principal in Denver who has been conducting data teams for the last decade! She creates a safe, empowering environment for teachers to share data and classroom experiences to collaboratively determine how to better help all of their students.

My colleague, Eileen Lucas, and I just completed a new policy brief titled: How to Catch Kids Before They Fall: A multi-year system of supports for state reading policies. This paper describes a proactive, multi-year “system of supports and safeguards.” This system of supports is what many of us are already doing—though we may be calling it by several different names:  Response to Intervention, Response to Instruction, RTI2, RTII, MTSS, or just plain data-driven decision making.

Let’s use this paper to celebrate the strides we’ve already made in our districts, schools, and classrooms. Let’s also use this paper to chart the course for next steps toward a fully-realized multi-year system of supports so that we can catch all struggling students—across grades and subject areas—and ensure that every child is a reader, and every adult has the literacy skills to be a contributing citizen. Thank you.

Laurie Borkon, Vice President of Government Affairs
Laurie Borkon, Vice President of Government Affairs
Laurie Borkon holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with training as a reading specialist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to Renaissance, she was a staff researcher at UW-Madison and spent several years working at the middle school level.


  1. Brittany Rives says:

    GREAT post!

  2. Doug Turner says:

    I work as a Academic Math Coach and we also do data meetings for math. I plan on investigating the other resources in this article to see if what we are doing is similar.

  3. C A Beverforden says:

    Reading comprehension is so important and so are basic math skills. Teaching Mathematics at the secondary level I knew students were struggling. It was the basic 3rd-4th grade knowledge that they lacked. This ultimately lead to behavior problems. It was a tough job to bring them up academically and behaviorally so that they could graduate on time.

  4. Chaundra Oden says:

    I believe in the increased rigor of the new national standards. I also think it is good to have national standards as other better performing countries do. However, the larger issue is that there seems to be a lack of consistent comprehensive teacher training for those standards. Teachers need to be taught how to teach for the new standards. It is one thing to create them. It is another to have a teacher know how to change what they’ve been doing for years to an entirely new way of teaching.

  5. West Walker says:

    Chaundra Oden hits the nail on the head! Increased “rigor” with the CCS is needed and, as Chaundra puts it, “the larger issue is that there seems to be a lack of consistent comprehensive teacher training for those standards. Teachers need to be taught how to teach for the new standards. It is one thing to create them. It is another to have a teacher know how to change what they’ve been doing for years to an entirely new way of teaching.” This view ESPECIALLY relates to the need for Reading Rigor and Text Complexity as described in the Reading Standard 10, Appendix A ( Does anyone have a state, district, or site that is indeed monitoring the grade level bands, or have devised a way they are going to meet that challenge!?I Are they going to rely on the publishers to formulate independent reading plans? So many districts purchase RL products, yet don’t implement them. With ATOS being approved for the CCS one must therefore ponder: what are they waiting for? Further, with easy reports such as the College and Career Readiness Report, why is there a delay in this rigor, training, and implementation?!? …Gets me a bit upset, sorry. lol

  6. Mike Ward says:

    This is a powerful post. I particularly like the focus. Of course the wise use of data and the right types of supports for young students are foundational to helping kids become colleage and career ready. But these measures are, as Laurie notes, also fundamental to social justice. Thanks for these insights!

  7. Karen Clingman says:

    As a teacher in a priority school in a large urban school district, we are continually trying to build and maintain a solid instructional foundation for our students. As I read the 6 essential and critical components of a system of support, we utilize and practice 5 of the 6 components. Engaging the parents is a component that I believe is important and necessary to the academic growth and success of students. We have a great parent group that provides a wealth and variety of volunteer services to the school and teachers. Biweekly sessions meetings are held which provide school information and life resources to the parents. As a school, we need to step up our rigor and engage our parents with strategies and resources that will help their kids to be successful students and grow to be successful adults. Also providing them with parent friendly communications that gives assessment results will give them a clearer focus and understanding on what their child knows or needs intervention with. This is a very powerful article that all educators should read and discuss in their Professional Learning Communities.

  8. Eileen Lucas says:

    Laurie and I thank each of you for your thoughtful comments in response to Laurie’s blog post and our paper, “How to Catch Kids Before They Fall.” We heartily agree that catching—and supporting—kids with low math skills (as well as low reading skills) at an early stage, is very important. We are working on providing additional resources for those of you working with struggling math students. We’re also working diligently on ways to support educators in best practices and fidelity of implementation with Renaissance Learning programs to make the best use of the data. Please keep the comments coming!