Equitable Access to Literacy (EAL) Plan

The new plan will increase student reading and writing skills over the next few years

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) announced the development of a new plan to increase student reading and writing skills over the next few years. 

The Equitable Access to Literacy (EAL) plan is a comprehensive and equitable literacy program that will support student success across all grade levels and demographics. The plan will:

  • Close the opportunity gap in literacy for students with disabilities, English learners, the economically disadvantaged, Black students, and Hispanic students.
  • Reduce barriers that create over-identification of students found eligible for special education services.
  • Replace practices that create the need for reading remediation at the secondary level. Students will have more more opportunities for Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses and other activities that keep kids engaged and in school.

During its October 5, 2021 work session, the Fairfax County School Board heard from literacy expert Emily Solari, Ph.D. and coordinator of the University of Virginia’s Reading Education Program, and division staff about why this ambitious initiative is needed and how it will support all students.

Immediate Changes to FCPS Literacy Program

FCPS has historically committed to instruction in the Five Domains of Reading: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. However,  immediate improvements are needed in phonological awareness and phonics instruction. Alongside the development of the EAL plan, the following immediate steps have been taken to improve the current literacy program:

  • Ensuring every PreK-2 student develops foundational skills in oral language development, phonological awareness, and phonics.
  • Providing explicit guidance on evidence-based intervention (ESSER III) grounded in science of reading for students in grades PreK-6.
  • Building teacher and administrator knowledge of evidence-based literacy practices grounded in the science of reading.

Gaps in Reading Achievement in FCPS

It is apparent that reading achievement is not equal across student groups. When Asian and white students are compared to Black, Hispanic, English learner, and students with disabilities, the gaps are significant and persistent.

  • With the exception of a slight increase in pass rate for English learners between 2018 and 2019, all student groups have shown a decline over the three-year period.
  • Gaps between white and Black students are consistently close to 20 percentage points and have increased during the pandemic.
  • Gaps between white and Hispanic students are consistently close to 30 percentage points and have increased to almost 40 percentage points during the pandemic.

Importance of Early Grades

Research points to the importance of reading development in the early grades.

Studies show that first graders who have reading difficulties are 88% more likely to struggle in 4th grade. And third graders who are not reading at proficient levels are four times as likely to leave high school without a diploma.

It has also been shown that proficiency in reading in the early grades has a positive impact on social emotional development.


Reading SOL Pass Rates, Grades 3-12 Combined

The chart above represents the combined pass rates from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Standards of Learning (SOL) Reading Tests for students in grades 3-12 for the spring of 2018, 2019 and 2021. It should be noted that spring SOL tests for spring of 2020 were cancelled due to pandemic- related school closure. In addition, the total test attempts decreased by roughly 30% in spring 2021 compared to the average attempts per group of 2018 and 2019. Across all students the drop in testing was about 33%, from ~100,000 students per year in 2018 and 2019 to ~66,000 in 2021. The decrease in the participation rate of SOL testing in 2021 is a result of FCPS students being provided hybrid learning due the pandemic, and no availability of at-home SOL testing as per VDOE guidelines.  View the full presentation. View the supporting data.

iReady Reading Benchmark Rates, Grades K-2 Combined

PreK-2 students do not participate in the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Standards of Learning (SOL) test, and therefore are not included in the previous data set. FCPS does administer the iReady Universal Screener to provide teachers and families information about strengths and needs in students’ basic reading skills. The data above represents the percent of students reading on or above grade level student groups. On or Above grade level is a criterion referenced designation identified by iReady. The designation indicates there is a high confidence in the probability that the student is showing proficiency on grade level content as identified by iReady, which bases its criterion framework from Common Core Standards. View the full presentationView the supporting data.