DESE taps Lincoln University professor to help with literacy

Adria Waters (submitted photo)
Adria Waters (submitted photo)

A Lincoln University professor will help shape literacy education in Missouri.

Adria Waters, an LU assistant professor of education, was selected to be an Early Literacy Fellow by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Waters is one of eight higher education professors in the state to be involved in the Early Literacy Fellow program, which launched in the spring of 2022 to improve literacy instruction in Missouri.

In her first year with the fellowship, Waters will complete the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling training course, which equips teachers with evidence-based skills to improve language and literacy courses. She will also be invited to attend several workshops starting in the fall.

Mallory McGowin, a spokesperson for DESE, said a council of education experts chose fellows based on their experiences and education in literacy instruction. Half of the eight fellows are current P-12 teachers.

The Early Literacy Fellow program is part of DESE's statewide initiative to improve literacy education in Missouri.

The Missouri Read, Lead, Exceed initiative is a more than $35 million plan to support student literacy by improving up to 15,000 kindergarten through third-grade teachers' ability to teach language, reading and spelling skills.

Statewide test results from the 2020-21 school year -- administered amid the COVID-19 pandemic -- showed less than half of Missouri students scored proficient or advanced in English.

As statewide tests were not administered during the 2019-20 school year because of the pandemic, 45 percent of students getting a score of at least proficient in English represents a drop of four points compared to results from the 2018-19 school year. The results show declines in nearly all grade levels and tested subjects, with the greatest decline in math.

DESE notes, however, that comparisons to previous years don't account for the unprecedented circumstances teachers and students faced while trying to teach during the pandemic.

As a fellow, Waters will work on recommendations for how schools can implement literacy education practices that better align with what educators are taught and research behind literacy instruction.

McGowin said the program will run through August 2024 and recommendations may include alterations to the state's educator preparation policy, changes to certification language, revision or creation of assessments associated with literacy teaching and more professional learning opportunities for teachers.

Waters is a doctoral candidate at University of Arkansas at Little Rock and begins her second year of teaching at Lincoln in the fall.