The results are in! The Iowa Department of Education's sponsored professional development on the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, better known as LETRS, has received an overwhelmingly positive response from participating elementary educators across the state.

LETRS is a professional development opportunity that provides an intensive look at the Science of Reading, which helps strengthen literacy instruction for K-5 teachers and administrators and addresses student achievement gaps.

A recent survey administered by Lexia, the Department’s contracted provider for LETRS, showed overall satisfaction by the first cohort of participants. Ninety-six percent of respondents agreed that the session content will enhance their ability to use research-based practices. Additionally, 98 percent of respondents stated they can apply the skills and concepts learned from the sessions in their schools.

“We are pleased to see that LETRS is making an impact with Iowa teachers across the state,” said Wanda Steuri, Department science of reading and dyslexia consultant. “LETRS provides evidence-based, professional learning on reading instruction that teachers can use in their current literacy programs, which will have an impact on grade-level reading proficiencies and student learning.”

The LETRS survey also noted that respondents found the sessions well-structured (94 percent) and gave them a deeper understanding of the concepts than just having the print materials and online program alone (91 percent).  

Through the Department’s sponsored LETRS professional development, elementary teachers, administrators, instructional coaches and reading support staff receive printed manuals and access to an online learning platform for self-directed learning. These study materials are accompanied by Bridge to Practice activities to better understand how to apply the research to their classrooms to maximize positive literacy outcomes. Each unit wraps up with a group session led by an instructor to clarify the information from the unit.

“Early results show the LETRS professional development is truly engaging Iowa teachers in the Science of Reading practices,” said Leigh Bellville, Department literacy consultant. “The first cohort’s average testing score for LETRS stands at 96 percent, which is impressive.”

LETRS professional development is intended to help Iowa schools address achievement gaps in literacy. The spring 2023 Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) showed 66 percent of Iowa’s third graders read at grade level and significant achievement gaps are present for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, students with disabilities and students who are English learners.

“LETRS professional development and professional development can provide critical outcomes for Iowa teachers and administrators,” Bellville said. “Participants can learn more about effective reading instruction by understanding the Science of Reading, converting research to practice, enhancing their effectiveness as teachers and transforming instructional strategies.”

Since January, two cohorts have officially begun LETRS professional development through the Department. Over 2,100 educators and nearly 320 administrators in total are taking part in the first two cohorts. Iowa public and accredited nonpublic schools can participate in Department-sponsored LETRS professional development at no cost. Schools can also opt to pay for additional professional development and services on LETRS through Lexia. Registration for a third LETRS cohort is open until June 15 and will include spots for early childhood educators as well as elementary teachers. Professional development for the third cohort will begin in August.

To participate in a building or district LETRS cohort, schools must have between 40-43 teachers interested in the course. Smaller schools that do not have at least 40 participating teachers may combine with other schools to form a cohort. In addition, individual educators are able to join state-level cohorts with others across Iowa.

The Department encourages any school to take advantage of an upcoming LETRS professional development for their teachers and staff involved with literacy instruction.

“There are more opportunities for Iowa schools to participate in an upcoming Department LETRS cohort,” Steuri said. “We welcome all public and accredited nonpublic K-5 schools to join in the next cohort to invest in their teachers, students and literacy instruction.”