Best Practices in Reading: A Study of 16 Texas Reading First Campuses

Texas Reading First Demonstration Site Project Report

Texas Education Agency
Institute for Public School Initiatives, University of Texas at Austin
Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin
Children’s Learning Institute, University of Texas-Health Science Center, Houston
Texas Institute of Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics, University of Houston


The Texas Reading First Study-Demonstration project was implemented with funding from the Texas Education Agency. The authors of this report acknowledge many individuals who contributed, provided guidance, and offered support throughout the various phases of this project.

Project Coordinators and Report Authors:

Candice Knight, Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin
Daryl Michel, Institute for Public School Initiatives, University of Texas System

Project structure, development of data collection tools, and data analysis:

Coleen Carlson, Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics, University of Houston
Greg Roberts, University of Texas, Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts
Heather Zavadsky, University of Texas System, Institute for Public School Initiatives

Data collection and transcribing:

Griselda Hernandez, Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics, University of Houston
Teresa Tipton, University of Texas System, Institute for Public School Initiatives
Mary White, Children’s Learning Institute, University of Texas, Health Science Center

Interview and observation schedules, product design guidance:

Kathy Balch, Linda Cranmer, Leslie Harris, Becki Krsnak, Darlene McAlister, and Stacy Pineda;
University of Texas System, Institute for Public School Initiatives

Angie Durand, Ken Nieser
Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics, University of Houston

We recognize the participating campuses for sharing insights on their best practices used to increase reading achievement scores. We also thank each site for producing educational products so that others may learn from their best practices.

Burrus Elementary, Houston ISD
Cromack Elementary, Brownsville ISD
D’Hanis Elementary, D’Hanis ISD
Driscoll Elementary, Driscoll ISD
Hughes Springs Elementary, Hughes Springs ISD
La Vega Elementary, La Vega ISD
Maple Lawn Elementary, Dallas ISD
Parsons Elementary, Lubbock ISD
Preston Hollow Elementary, Dallas ISD
Price Elementary, Beaumont ISD
Ramirez Charter School, Lubbock ISD
Shallowater Elementary, Shallowater ISD
Southmayd Elementary, Houston ISD
Tijerina Elementary, Houston ISD
Troup Elementary, Troup ISD
Vanguard Academy Charter


Reflection is an essential part of the learning process (Schon, 1987). After implementing new practices, it is important for practitioners to look back in an effort to continually improve educational experiences for students. As Texas Reading First neared the end of implementation, a self-study was initiated focusing on effective instructional practices that had been implemented over the course of the grant period. What worked well? What can others learn from us? What can we do better? The Study/Demonstration Site Project sought to first identify effective practices, and then to study those practices in an effort to learn from practitioners and share their success with others at the local and state levels.

Purpose and Objectives

This study examined effective practices at successful elementary schools in Texas. We looked at 16 schools that made significant progress over time in outcome measures in reading. The project goals were to highlight successful school sites as models of effective practice, identify effective practices at each site, and demonstrate effective practices for others. This paper discusses the common themes that were identified and is designed to inform practitioners about what these schools accomplished and how they did so.

Theoretical Background

Large-scale school improvement is often measured in terms of student achievement. If the goal is to improve student learning, we must improve the schools in which that learning takes place (Darling-Hammond, 1996). School improvement often relies on several integrated dimensions of practice among varying stakeholder groups. This could mean building capacity at different levels in developing the knowledge and skills of individuals, creating a professional community, aligning programs, providing resources, or sharing leadership (Newmann, King, & Youngs, 2000). To improve schools, these various dimensions must also continually evolve and change. Fullan (2008) notes that schools that effectively implement change value their employees, connect peers with purpose, build capacity, continue learning, function transparently, and have evolving systems. In addition to the individual dimensions that are related to school improvement, relationships within the overall system may have an impact as well. As such, general systems theory was used as one guiding principle for this study. When examining effective practices at successful schools, it is possible that both successful subsystems within specific dimensions and an overall smoothly functioning unit will exist (Cummings & Worley, 2005; Fullan, 2008).

In order to provide structure for the scope and direction of the study, a guiding framework was theorized to contain important dimensions of successful schools that allowed us to examine their relationships (see Figure 1). The Conceptual Framework was developed by drawing from existing models for examining effective school practices, such as the National Center for Educational Achievement, The Broad Foundation, and Baldridge National Quality Program. This original Conceptual Framework guided all data collection activities, including the development of data collection instruments.

Figure 1: Conceptual Framework


We used a qualitative, comparative case study approach to guide this study, carefully examining each case, including activities and functions (Stake, 2006). With the use of this approach, we collected, organized, and analyzed data specific to each case and, later, used this data for comparison purposes (Patton, 2002).

Site Selection

The 16 schools were selected as potential study sites based on K-3 student performance on outcome assessments in reading. The 2004-2008 outcome measures included in this model were the percentage of students scoring proficient at each campus on: 1) Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI) graphophonemic knowledge scores and, if applicable, Tejas LEE graphophonemic knowledge scores in kindergarten; 2) Stanford Achievement Test-10 or Iowa Test of Basic Skills total reading in grades 1 and 2, and, if applicable, APRENDA or Logramos total reading in grades 1 and 2; and 3) Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) English, and, if applicable, Spanish, in grade 3. Method of selection was as follows: Standard scores (z-scores) were calculated for both change over time, from 2004-2008 (slope) and reading performance in 2008 (intercept). Campuses with the largest growth in reading outcomes during years participating in Reading First and campuses at the highest level of performance in reading in 2008 were identified. Campuses were rank ordered according to both slope and intercept values. Campuses were identified using multi-level, unconditional models of student performance, nesting students within campuses. In addition to overall performance, representation of study sites across districts of varying size was also considered as part of the selection process. This criterion was based on the need to include study sites that would be representative of as many campuses across the state as possible, as pertaining to district type.

Participant Selection

After selecting the 16 sites, a sample of representative participants from each district and campus were asked to participate. Data were collected from district leaders, campus leaders, classroom teachers and interventionists, and Reading First technical assistance personnel assigned to the schools (see Table 1)

Subjects Data Sources
Title Interview Observation Focus Group
Reading Technical Assistance Specialist X    
Superintendent X    
Reading First Director X    
Principal X    
Literacy Coach X    
Teacher X X X
Interventionist X X X
Special Education Teacher     X

Table 1. Data Collection by Subject

Data Sources

Interview and observation protocols were developed based on the Conceptual Framework, as well as from existing instruments used to measure effective practices. We drew from interview and observation instruments used by the Broad Foundation, National Reading First Technical Assistance Center, Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics, Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, and the Center on Instruction. Taking into consideration existing protocols, we then adapted and developed original instruments that were tailored to the needs of this study.

We created separate interview protocols for state, district, and campus level leaders, as well as for teacher focus groups. Additionally, we created separate observation and follow-up interview protocols for teachers and interventionists. The interview and observation instruments were piloted at one school and adjustments made to ensure clarity in participant responses.

Data Collection

Each site was visited during the 2009-2010 school year to collect data and identify areas most related to each campus’ success. These areas were then highlighted for demonstration. The project team spent at least one school day at each of the sites conducting individual and focus group interviews and observing core and intervention instruction.

We used a structured process for the interviews. We used a pre-established set of questions, inclusive of our framework categories: teaching and learning, processes, leadership, and systems. Additionally, we had pre-established prompts and clarifications in order to obtain as much information as possible from each participant about best practices and to expand on effective practices that may not be included in our framework.

Observations of best practices in reading during classroom instruction were also a focus of this study. Our goal was to observe instruction in search of best practices used. During classroom observations, we used a structured instrument to systematically collect data about best practices in reading related to the elements from our framework. Following these observations, structured interviews took place with those teachers observed. The purpose for interviewing after the observations was to collect additional data from teachers on practices used during the lesson. We used guiding questions and prompts to attain additional information and insights from each teacher.

Data Analysis

The analysis of data continued throughout the study as we identified themes emerging from the data. Merriam (1998) stated that the “right way to analyze data in a qualitative study is to do it simultaneously with data collection” (p. 62). After each data collection point, digitally recorded interview data were transcribed and identifying markers were removed. We recorded our thoughts and captured responses from each participant or group specific to each case noting emerging themes, key phrases or patterns, thoughts and feelings, commonalities, and differences. By immediately reflecting on the data, we were able to begin to organize the data and generate additional categories and themes (Marshall & Rossman, 2006).

After all interviews were transcribed, we coded and then summarized each case by campus, with 16 cases in all. For the coding process, the original categories in the Conceptual Framework were condensed to 7 categories. These condensed were communication, instructional practices, assessment, support, professional development, leadership, and vision and values. Each case analysis was then summarized in a site summary table.

After each case was summarized, we performed a cross-case analysis. We wanted to understand the commonalities that existed among the 16 campuses studied. We analyzed responses from each district and campus level interview. In addition, we examined random teacher interviews and focus groups to gain additional insight into our findings across the 16 campuses.

We summarized the cross-case analysis by looking at distributions. The series of three distribution charts represents the campus highlights (drawn from the Conceptual Framework) that were identified by the project team during the onsite visits (see Figure 2). The second distribution, represented in Table 2, is the frequency of references to themes stated in the district and campus level interviews. This produced two documents, which were compared to each other, combined, and used to formulate an overall summary of findings, found in Figure 3.

As of yet, teacher and interventionist observation data have not been formally analyzed, although observations of instructional practices by the project team were taken into consideration when identifying campus highlights. Our hope is that this data will be formally analyzed in the future to offer additional insight into effective practices at the classroom level.


The data used to reach conclusions for this study included both self-reflections from the participants (interviews) and observations from the project team (highlights identified from site visits). The determination was made to use both of these data sources because, upon examining the final data, we noticed that the topics participants spoke about and the way they spoke about them were largely limited to the more concrete dimensions from the Conceptual Framework. For example, participants spoke of their core programs often but did not mention sustainability very often at all. We hypothesize that this is because some of the dimensions are more concrete and easily observed while others are more abstract. It seems logical that practitioners would be more aware of their everyday practices and perhaps less aware of the underlying values and processes that influence those practices. The project team was in a unique position to look specifically for these underlying factors and as such noted them more often. In addition, we noticed that the practices we observed on campuses and participants’ awareness of their own practices were sometimes different. For these reasons, both the direct input from the participants and the observations of the project team were given equal weight when analyzing the data. The results represent the combination of both of these data sources. We are confident that this creates a more well-rounded and accurate picture of the actual factors, both concrete and abstract, that are influential at each site.

The results indicate that there are several dimensions from the Conceptual Framework that work together to influence outcomes at these sites. We will begin by reporting the most important individual dimensions and conclude with how these dimensions work together in an overall system.


Table 2 represents the distribution of themes from the coded interview data, or the number of times that certain themes were referenced by participants in each interview question. The most frequent themes referenced were instruction (200) and support (198). Professional development (PD) had many references (160) but it became apparent that there was overlap between the categories of PD and support, as many of the participants spoke of PD as a type of support or visa versa. Therefore, PD was not included as a distinct important dimension but can be assumed to be embedded in support to some extent. Likewise, communication (148) was found to overlap with support as a type of support and was not reported as a separate important dimension. In addition, assessment had many references (158) but this category was noticed to overlap with instruction in that many references to grouping or differentiated instruction could be included as either instruction or assessment. Thus, assessment is represented in instruction and was not included as a separate important dimension. Overall, instruction and support appear to be the most important dimensions to stakeholders when reporting their own effective practices.

Figure 2: Distribution of Campus Highlights (from the Conceptual Framework)

Figure 2 represents the distribution of campus highlights from the Conceptual Framework, or the number of times each dimension was identified as a campus strength by the project team. These campus highlights were identified based on a day-long visit to each campus, which included interviews with various stakeholders and classroom observations. The most frequent dimensions highlighted were instruction (9), support (7), campus leadership (7), and implementation (11). In addition, there were 4 categories that were highlighted frequently but not quite as often: vision and values (6), district leadership (5), collaboration (6), and communication (5).

Combining the results from both Table 2 and Figure 2, the most important dimensions appear to be implementation, instruction, support, and campus leadership. Additional influential dimensions appear to be communication, collaboration, district leadership, and vision and values.

Instruction and Implementation

Within the dimension of instruction, the components that appear to be of particular importance are high quality Tier 1 instruction, including small–group instruction, high-quality workstations, differentiated instruction based on student needs, and general grouping practices using data. Within the dimension of implementation, the components that appear to be of particular importance are having the 3-Tier Reading Model framework in place, effective scheduling, and fidelity to the core reading program (consistency and alignment). In addition, many participants stated that the overall, state-level infrastructure of Texas Reading First (such as funding levels, employment of coaches, professional development, and communicated expectations) was beneficial to them. As an example of the importance of both instruction and implementation and how they are related to each other, when asked how Reading First affected instructional practices, one participant responded:

“… before Reading First we really didn’t teach reading very well at all… No one had ever taught us how to teach reading. We were very fragmented… we might have been doing… a little bit of that program, a little bit of something we developed ourselves, but… we now realize that… you create gaps and holes in your instruction and in their learning… I think we caused children to be Tier II students through our own misguided attempts at instruction. But learning how to use explicit instruction and the core with fidelity, that all changed and our reading instruction became… very focused, very tight… very driven by what the children were needed [sic].”

Our analysis suggests that the implementation (structure) and instruction (practice) dimensions appear to consistently influence one another. Implementing clearly understood structures (i.e. 3-Tier Reading Model), often results in strengthened delivery of instructional practices (i.e. fidelity to core, targeted small-group instruction), whereas the delivery of instructional practices continually informs the refinement of implementation structures. This ongoing improvement cycle of refining organizational structures ultimately affects the practices necessary to increase student learning.


Within the dimension of support, one of the components that appears to be the most important is having onsite coaching support. Most of the participants referred to their coach as being a key factor to their success. Coaching activities referenced most often include modeling, providing PD, conducting collaborative grade level meetings, regular data meetings, and providing positive feedback. Creating an “open-door policy” where teachers felt free to ask questions and share concerns seemed to be important as this appeared to build trust and allowed the coach to provide nonthreatening and constructive feedback. In fact, communication and collaboration were both found to be important factors, with the bulk of the communication being informational and the bulk of the collaborating being between the teachers themselves or the coach and the teachers.

Thus, the coach’s ability to build relationships appears to be key. Our analysis suggests that the extent to which the coach was able to build positive and trusting relationships with the teachers greatly influenced the quality and quantity of their implementation. Likewise, the relationship between the coach and leadership appears to be instrumental to success. When state, district, and campus leadership work collaboratively and support and empower the coach this appears to impact instruction in a positive way. In addition, many participants referred to the support of the principal and the Reading Technical Assistance Specialists (RTAs) in particular as influencing factors. Overall, there appears to be a network of supportive relationships that allows for successful problem solving for implementation.

Monitoring and accountability appear to play important roles. Classroom observations by the coach and the principal were common, along with clear communication about expectations. However, it is worth noting that participants made sure to tell us that this monitoring and accountability was always paired with the encouragement and support to implement. Such instructional engagement on the part of campus leadership (principal and coach) led many teachers to feel supported rather than evaluated. One participant stated “… she was in my classroom a lot, you know, helping. Not, you know, in a bad way… just there giving a lot of support, and it makes you feel more confident and comfortable. “


While all dimensions of the Conceptual Framework appear to be important, leadership in particular seems to have the highest impact on effective instructional practices and, ultimately, on student outcomes. Our analysis revealed that the presence and active participation of multiple leaders who are interacting with one another is important. Although leadership styles varied, it was evident from interviews that effective leaders maintained and communicated a clear vision and organized improvement efforts around what is best for students within the various populations.

Campus principals were found to be especially influential in the functioning of the overall system. Much of this influence appears to be through the articulation and implementation of a successful campus culture, manifested through the leaders’ vision and values. While the type of campus cultures varied, having a clear and consistent vision for the direction of the campus and implementing a student-centered set of values that drive decision-making appear to be instrumental to success. Strong, principal-led vision and values seem to influence daily practices in multiple dimensions at these campuses and, by extension, student outcomes as well.

Analysis of transcripts indicated that effective implementation is cultivated by the knowledge and skills of the local campus coach. The local campus coach is instrumental in supporting implementation, yet also plays a key leadership role when acting as a liaison between state, district, and campus stakeholder groups and ensuring that expectations at the various levels are implemented. While our findings suggest the need for strong campus leaders, the local campus coach seems equally important in maintaining a focus on the common vision and communicating a clear sense of campus-wide expectations.

Some campuses identified district leadership as an important factor. Participants mentioned aligning district and campus structures and practices, and securing funding for material and personnel resources as most important. The analysis also suggests that the communication and support structure within small, rural districts appears more closely connected and/or aligned.

Our analysis suggests that leadership appears to be one of the main determinants to success at the studied sites. When reflecting on leadership from a systems perspective, it is becoming more and more apparent that the success of the larger system can be shown by the extent to which parts of the system are guided by a strong leader.


Figure 3

Overall System

Recall that both participant feedback from interviews and the project team’s observations were used to analyze these data. Figure 3 combines these findings into our overall results, with the various dimensions from the Conceptual Framework in Figure 1 (Teaching and Learning, Leadership, Processes, and System) working together in an overall system. This system graphic illustrates the relative importance of the dimensions that were found to be influential.

Within the dimension of Teaching and Learning, instruction and support were both found to be important. Within the dimension of Leadership, campus leadership (principal and coach), district leadership, and vision and values were found to be important. Within the dimension of Processes, implementation, communication, and collaboration were found to be important.

The important factors within each of the 3 dimensions have been reorganized in Figure 3 to represent how they functioned at the 16 schools. Some of the factors have been used in this context differently to reflect how there were used and discussed by participants. For example, implementation was originally under the dimension of Processes but during the analysis it became apparent that participants spoke of implementation as being very closely related to instruction. That is, implementation was thought of as a practice rather than a process. Therefore, implementation will be discussed along with instruction as part of Teaching and Learning (box on the right-hand side).

In addition, support was originally included as part of the Teaching and Learning dimension but will be discussed here as part of Processes. This change was made to reflect what participants stated, namely that ongoing support was a process that impacted instructional practices. Communication and collaboration are 2 additional processes that were influential and all 3 can be found in the small box in the center of Figure 3.

Finally, “vision and values” was originally included as part of the dimension of Leadership and it is still represented as part of the principal’s influence (Principal and Literacy Coach circles). The principal does seem to be the driving force behind communicating a clear vision and implementing student-centered values school-wide. However, it was also discovered that the vision and values of the principal influenced every other aspect of how the campus functioned as a system. Therefore, “vision and values” was added at the campus system level (inside large square) as a determinant of how the various dimensions worked as a whole.

The alignment of various dimensions appears to be another determining factor to success. We looked at 3 main categories of dimensions (Teaching and Learning, Leadership, and Processes) and found that in most cases multiple dimensions were found to be strengths at these campuses. In fact, 11 out of the 16 schools were determined to be strong in some way in all 3 dimensions. While the site-specific strengths varied, it appears that multiple dimensions working well simultaneously in a system may contribute to success. It seems that the presence of these larger district- and state-level successful operating systems (outside large square) plays a key role, influencing the way in which the individual dimensions operate.

Indeed, the presence or relative success of individual dimensions does not appear to be as important as the whole picture, or how well the different dimensions work together. This is supported by Cummings and Worley’s (2005) findings, which state that “a system’s overall effectiveness is partly determined by the extent to which the different subsystems are aligned with each other” (p. 88). Successful schools appear to be doing many things well at the same time. Further, the things that they are doing well seem to be related to each other as part of an overall system.

In sum, campus leadership (principal and coach) appear to influence teaching and learning (implementation and instruction) through effective processes (support, communication, and collaboration). These relationships operate within an effective larger system, which includes campus level vision and values as well as district and state support. Furthermore, effective practices at each of these levels appear to positively impact student outcomes.


These recommendations are based on our analysis of the factors contributing to success at these sites, as well as the barriers to success that the sites identified and their solutions for overcoming them. In other words, the following recommendations represent what worked well and also what might be considered when implementing future initiatives.

State Education Agency (SEA)

State-level support appears to be instrumental to Local Education Agency (LEA) success. Based on our analysis, it is recommended that state-level practice include providing sufficient funding for implementation; participants noted repeatedly the importance of adequate funding to support their local implementation efforts. It is recommended that funding be sufficient to allow for the hiring of highly qualified, key support personnel (coaches and interventionists) and that hiring these personnel be part of a clear structure of non-negotiable expectations for implementation, communicated consistently.

Additionally, many of the sites noted that the long-term implementation period of the grant initiative (5-6 years) contributed to their success. They faced obstacles, which led to an implementation dip in the first few years of the initiative. However, having sufficient time to address and overcome these obstacles and refine practice proved key. Full implementation that was differentiated to local needs took time but did occur later in the implementation process, impacting teacher practice and student outcomes. Therefore, it is recommended that future initiatives similarly allow ample time for full implementation to occur.

In addition, Texas Reading First’s structure of providing support through technical assistance (TA) to LEAs proved quite successful and this structure is recommended for future practice. This structure included having highly qualified content and instructional experts provide support at the state, regional, and campus level and regularly assist with implementation. In particular, the state-level regional TA provider and the local campus coach had an important impact on success and it is recommended that these positions be included in future initiatives. Clear and consistent communication and frequent collaboration with these support personnel also contributed to success and is recommended for future initiatives.

To summarize, recommendations to State Education Agencies for future initiatives include the following:

  • Provide adequate funding;
  • Allow ample time for implementation to occur;
  • Set clear and consistent expectations in the form of non-negotiables; and
  • Provide highly qualified local support personnel and technical assistance that is targeted to meet local needs.

Local Education Agency (LEA)

While state-level support is critical, it is the LEA that appears to be the driving force behind success at these sites. Thus, the bulk of recommendations are for strong local implementation efforts. This section will be divided into district-level, campus-level, and classroom-level recommendations.

District level

It is recommended that district-level administration of the grant be in a manner consistent, not overlapping, but in alignment with other initiatives or programs, with clear expectations communicated regularly. The district should support the initiative by setting up clear structures and expectations, monitoring the implementation of those expectations, and providing support as needed. One important way to provide such support is through the funding of key, campus-level personnel. It is important that the district create a structure of support for campus leaders (principals and coaches), which includes removing barriers to implementation.

In addition, the extent to which district-level leadership took ownership in the implementation of the initiative and made it a priority often determined the extent to which full implementation occurred. Therefore, consistent district engagement in the implementation process, from state to campus level, is recommended.

To summarize, recommendations to LEAs for future initiatives include the following:

  • Provide adequate funding for personnel and resources;
  • Communicate clear expectations;
  • Align and collaborating with other initiatives; and
  • Make implementation a priority.

Providing support for campus expectations is also highly recommended, including monitoring implementation.

Campus level

Effective campus leadership appears to be one of the strongest determinants of success. This section will provide attributes of and recommendations for effective principals and coaches.

One recommendation is the presence of a strongly engaged campus principal. Based on the analysis of transcripts, participants at many of the schools identified the following attributes of a strong leader:

  • The principal demonstrated support by being actively engaged as a participant in learning and as an ongoing motivator.
  • The principal maintained and communicated a clear vision, established short and long term goals, conveyed expectations, and monitored and supported implementation.
  • The principal set aside time for common planning with the expectation that teachers communicate and collaborate with one another, with colleagues in other grade levels, or with the local campus coach.
  • The principal appropriately used funds to hire qualified key personnel (i.e. instructional coach or interventionist) or acquired material resources when needed.

This suggests to us that future initiatives should clearly establish the role for the campus principal, noting the importance of being highly visible, knowledgeable, participatory, and supportive throughout the various implementation phases. As described by one campus leader, “….ownership is big. And when you’re trying to get a staff on board who’s fairly reluctant, it’s not easy to do so. We had to really walk hand in hand”

In addition to the campus principal, the individual assuming the role of the instructional coach appears to be another strong indicator of success. As mentioned by many participants in our study, the instructional coach provided differentiated support. This included modeling in classrooms and demonstrating best practices. The instructional coach led professional development sessions that were relevant to the teachers, prioritized based on need, and presented information systematically and in a manageable way. The information or strategies presented were closely monitored and teachers were engaged in reflective feedback sessions to discuss their delivery and how students responded. In addition, the coach played an instrumental role in communicating and maintaining a focus on the vision.

This suggests to us that the selection of an instructional coach is extremely important. We suggest instructional coaches be part of future initiatives, yet we suggest that careful consideration be placed on how they are selected. We learned from this study that they must be individuals that are highly competent in their assigned content area, have the ability to build trusting and supportive relationships, understand what their coaching role is, and can collaborate and communicate with individuals at varying levels (district and campus).

It is important that the campus principal and instructional coach work closely to ensure that the needs of the teachers are met and that the vision remains a focus in the decision-making process. The principal and coach remain in constant communication with one another, collaborating with the teachers to ensure that they feel supported. The principal appears to play a key role in setting appropriate and consistent vision and values, while the coach plays a key role in communicating and supporting them. The vision and values appear to influence all aspects of campus practice by creating a campus culture, so it is recommended that the principal be reflective about his/her expectations (short and long term). While individual campuses may have different needs, it is recommended that the vision and values be as student-centered as possible. The most successful sites had a collective sense of responsibility for student needs and had a “whatever it takes” attitude. This emphasis on student needs guided decision-making and expectations at every level.

Classroom level

Overall results indicate that instructional practices and implementation are separate dimensions but are equally important. Implementation reflects the structured expectations (3-Tier Reading Model, scheduling, etc.) and instruction is the daily practice of teaching. It is recommended that these dimensions be addressed and supported individually but continually inform each other. Recommendations for classroom-level practice will include both Tier I instruction and also intervention instruction, although it is worth noting that many of the participants emphasized the importance of high quality Tier I instruction as key to their success.

What was consistent across the successful sites in this study is that teachers felt supported in their profession. It is recommended that this environment of perceived and actual support be fostered by establishing systems that allow for regular communication and collaboration. Participants noted time and again the importance of the coach in this role, providing ongoing classroom support and PD that was prioritized, manageable, and relevant. Teachers felt that their needs were met primarily through the coach. As stated in the previous section on leadership, the coaching role seems critical to success and it is recommended that it be utilized in future initiatives.

In addition, the principle of buy-in for implementation was heard throughout the interviews, with participants noting that teacher ownership in the initiative was an initial barrier in the adoption process but eventually became the key to their success. The key to overcoming this barrier appears to be teachers feeling supported and “heard.” Therefore, it is recommended that during the initial phase of adoption and throughout implementation a forum for teacher input be established and a support system put into place based on their feedback.

Consistency at the classroom level also appears to be important and is highly recommended. Vertical and horizontal alignment in practice, materials, and vocabulary was achieved through regular collaboration and communication between and among grade level teachers. In addition, differentiated instruction appeared to be key. The most successful sites had a deep understanding of how to monitor student progress and tailor their instruction accordingly, including strategic grouping practices and providing small group instruction. In addition, our analysis suggests that participants perceive high quality Tier I instruction as critical to their success. Our recommendation for future initiatives is to ensure structured collaboration time is made available to carefully plan the alignment of intervention instruction with Tier I instruction.

Overall Recommendations

Recommendations for future initiatives include the recommendations listed above, along with establishing a clear, long-term plan in place at inception, communicating this plan clearly, and monitoring and supporting the implementation of this plan throughout.

One of the barriers noted repeatedly by participants was a feeling of being overwhelmed at the beginning of implementation. These successful sites overcame that barrier by prioritizing their implementation and focusing on a few key things at a time. Their ability to slow down the implementation and customize what they chose to focus on first in order to meet their local needs contributed greatly to their success. Thus, it is recommended that LEAs be allowed and indeed encouraged to differentiate in this way for future initiatives, prioritizing their implementation sequence and pace.

In addition, the support structures in place for Texas Reading First appeared to have made a big difference and future initiatives can learn from that success. In particular, the local support personnel (coach, RTA) were able to provide targeted, grade level or in-classroom PD that met the needs of each campus and teacher. Support through professional development was noted by participants as a factor that contributed to their success. However, it is worth noting that they referred to non-traditional types of PD as the most beneficial. Local, targeted, campus-based, and classroom-based ongoing professional learning made the difference at these schools and that structure is recommended for future initiatives.

Finally, the most successful sites in this study had in common an additional, unexpected dimension. They were all very reflective about their decision-making and put a lot of thought into how they implemented the initiative based on their local needs. They also formatively evaluated their progress along the way, by analyzing data and talking among stakeholders, and either celebrated their successes or modified appropriately. This reflection appears to have helped them stay the course for implementation and also stay true to their own vision and values. One noted “when we began to see some of the data it became very evident to all of us, and it gives me chills just thinking about that, that what we were doing was truly benefitting children and it would benefit them for a lifetime.” In fact, the experience of participating in this study appears to have been a type of professional development in itself, with schools becoming more aware of what they were doing and why. Such reflection appears to be both motivating and a useful tool for course-correction if necessary. Therefore, putting a structure into place for strategic reflection, at all levels, is recommended for future initiatives.

Although these recommendations have been reported by state, district, and campus level, we want to emphasize how important it is for all parts of the system to be working together through communication and collaboration. The extent to which the larger system functioned cohesively caused participants to feel more informed, valued, and supported, which increased the amount and quality of implementation.


The significance of this study reaches beyond the research realm and represents a move forward in the study of school improvement. Understandably in a system that needs support, the traditional research model in education has been to look for problems and then problem-solve for solutions. This study took the perspective of looking for successes, cataloging them in detail, and sharing them with others to be replicated in other contexts. In many ways, this study allowed us at the state level to self-reflect and our hope is that what we learned from our successes can positively impact future practice.


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About the Authors

Daryl Michel, PhD, is the Director of Academic Foundations at The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Public School Initiatives (IPSI). Dr. Michel has national experience in providing support to educators and school and district leaders in areas such as instructional leadership, research-based instructional practices, and instructional coaching. Currently, he leads or provides leadership for projects including the Texas Literacy Initiative, Literacy Achievement Academies, and Write for Texas. He also leads multiple teams at IPSI in developing online course tools and resources, providing face-to-face and online professional development and technical assistance, and supporting schools and districts in literacy education and using data to guide instruction. Dr. Michel received his Ph.D. from Texas State University with an emphasis in Education: School Improvement. His research interests including learning communities, instructional coaching, leading effective meetings, and teacher and leader development.