Brooklyn Park school seeing success with scientific reading approach

Two-thirds of Minnesota fourth graders are not proficient at reading, more than ever since the state started testing in 1992.

The state legislature aimed at making improvements through the READ Act passed this year. They might look to the Anoka-Hennepin School District where results are improving with a possible solution based on science.

They tossed out a decades-old approach at Monroe Elementary last year when they officially implemented the Bridge to Read program.

"Meet the Komodo dragon," reads student Theo Nguyen. "Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world."

Komodo dragons and king cobras entertain Theo in some of his favorite books. The first-grader is a strong reader who started with fundamentals.

He’s part of Monroe Elementary’s all-in effort to shift their approach to reading, with the Bridge to Read program.

"Bridge to Read has been a big part of Monroe, I'm pretty sure," Theo said. "And I like how we start with the easy things."

The program is built on scientific research about how our brains move from speech, which comes naturally, to reading, which doesn’t. Anoka-Hennepin literacy specialist Dr. Lisa Silmser says the transition wasn’t easy, mainly because it started with admitting their whole language approach was failing.

"We knew that what we were doing wasn't working as well, and we knew that already the results were not so great," said Dr. Silmser. "But when we shifted to teaching the way the brain learns, kids were lighting up."

Bridge to Read uses structured literacy, so kids learn phonics first. And then, like moving on to subtraction from addition, or climbing the rungs of a ladder, they add syllables and compound words.

The Minnesota Department of Education is considering new reading curriculum under the READ Act and Dr. Silmser is embracing the focus on funding structured literacy.

"It will help schools be more efficient," Dr. Silmser said. "It will help schools get the training they need for their teachers. It will help them get the curriculum that makes the lift easier for teachers."

Monroe’s improvements are anecdotal for now since the K-2 kids won’t get tested until fourth grade, but they see massive results already when they chart students’ reading abilities using the colors of a stoplight.

"We used to have a lot of red and a lot of yellow, and now it's mostly green," Dr. Silmser said.

The school’s new approach won it the Future Award from the Minnesota Business Partnership just last month.