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​ARP ESSER Guidance on Reading Improvement for Students

Act 24 of 2021 appropriated approximately $250 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) State Reserve funds to school districts and charter schools to address gaps in students' learning and social and emotional wellness through the implementation of evidence-based interventions. Eight percent (8%) of each local education agency's (LEA) allocation must be used to address student learning gaps in reading. LEAs are to implement evidence-based interventions that address the needs of students and subgroups of students most impacted by COVID-19. 

When planning ARP ESSER spending to address specific student needs, it is important that LEAs adopt a systematic approach to determine what reading supports are most needed for their students. To support LEAs in their decisions, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has provided a Reading Improvement and Acceleration Decision Tree that connects directly with the resources and tools in the Accelerated Learning toolkit. This guide is focused on the three phases of that process: Set, Assess, and Plan.   

Introduction to Structured Literacy (Science of Reading)

An important consideration when developing students' reading skills is the incorporation of structured literacy into classroom instruction for early learners and subgroups of students that require additional assistance in reading development. 

Structured literacy supplements core instruction with an increased focus on the five essential components of reading (Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension) and incorporates a systematic approach that engages students' senses (sight, touch, movement, and hearing). Research on Pen​nsylvania's Dyslexia Pilot and Expansion project demonstrated significant impact for students and school systems in the use of Structured Literacy. Additionally, the State Board of Education is currently revising Chapter 49 Regulations to include Structured Literacy training requirements for all pre-service and current grade PreK-4, special education, and English learner instructors. Access PA Training and Technical Assistance Network (PATTAN) Intro to Science of Reading resources for additional information.

As LEAs decide on how best to utilize the 8 percent allocation of the ARP ESSER set-aside for Reading Improvement and Acceleration, consideration should be given for the incorporation of Structured Literacy and/or other research-based reading instructional practices.

Please use the Structured Literacy Decision Tree Guide below to analyze your LEA's needs regarding the establishment of a structure of literacy initiative.  Each area provides a series of guiding questions to support the LEA discussion to plan how to spend the ESSER III funds to develop a robust structured literacy initiative based on needs evidenced through walking through the decision tree.


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​Phase 1: Set the Direction

Does the LEA have a literacy leadership team to oversee the plan for addressing learning gaps in students' reading skill development?

Phase 2: Assess Needs

Does the LEA have a strong understanding of student and specific student groups reading skills and teacher knowledge of research-based reading instructional techniques?

Phase 3: Establish Reading Instruction Priorities and Goals

Supported by ARP ESSER Funds Set-Aside for Reading Improvement and Acceleration