A dramatic boost: Catholic-school reading levels on the rise

Believe and Read helping thousands of students

Annunciation Catholic School Principal Kari Zobel quickly saw the need for more reading instruction in September 2020. That’s when the Minneapolis school returned to in-person learning. 

“We had a high percentage of second graders not reading at grade level because they had missed several months of in-person instruction during that critical first-grade year,” Zobel said. “Fortunately, our teachers are trained in Believe and Read and knew how to meet those students’ needs. Many students made phenomenal progress throughout the year.” 

A scientific approach to readingTeacher leads Believe and Read lesson

The Catholic Schools Center of Excellence’s Believe and Read initiative, in partnership with Groves Learning Organization and Cretin-Derham Hall, brings a structured, scientific approach to reading into K-3 Catholic school classrooms. 

Helen Dahlman, a CSCOE excellence consultant, explained, “Believe and Read schools provide explicit instruction in phonic and phonemic awareness. They teach letters and sounds in a specific way, while using a multi-sensory approach, so kids who process differently can grasp the concepts.” 

Now in its third year at 44 Twin Cities area Catholic schools, Believe and Read aims to ensure that every student reads at or above grade level by fourth grade. That’s the time, Dahlman emphasized, when kids move from learning to read to reading to learn.

“Typically, we see about 20% of students in Catholic schools not reading at grade level — and that’s still too high,” said CSCOE President Brian Ragatz. In schools participating in Believe and Read, that number drops to under 9% for third grade students whose classrooms have used the program for at least one year. 

“That demonstrates how impactful this program can be,” Ragatz added. 

‘The data is real’

Data gathered from 33 schools during the 2020-21 school year reinforce Annunciation’s experience that Believe and Read dramatically boosts reading levels. 

“You might wonder, ‘Is the data real?’ Yes, it’s real,” confirmed Beth Sable, a first-grade teacher at Annunciation who is becoming certified as the school’s reading coach. 

Allison Klint believes Sable’s Believe and Read training contributed to early intervention for her second-grade son. He has been diagnosed with dyslexia. 

“The teachers are able to really see where kids are, where they are struggling and can flag concerns sooner,” Klint said. “I don’t think my son would be where he is today without Believe and Read.”

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