Taking Aim at Improving Test Scores

August 30, 2018
Drs. Tiffany Hogan (r) and Joanna Christodoulou
Drs. Tiffany Hogan (r) and Joanna Christodoulou

With under half of third-grade students in Massachusetts meeting expectations on the Spring 2017 English Language Arts Next Generation MCAS exam, there’s a great need to support teachers in literacy education to raise those test scores. The goal is to improve the reading skills of thousands of students to improve their chances of success later in life.

Combating the literacy achievement gap was the focus of the two-day workshop,  “Closing the Literacy Achievement Gap in Elementary Education: The Science of Language and Literacy.” Sponsored by the MGH Institute’s Office of Continuing and Professional Development (CPD) in collaboration with the Literacy and Language Certificate of Advanced Studies in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. The workshop attracted more than 30 teachers and reading specialists from seven schools and six school systems from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, including staff and leadership from Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown.

MGH Institute faculty Joanna Christodoulou, EdD, and Tiffany Hogan, PhD, CCC-SLP, were the co-leaders of the workshop. Dr. Christodoulou heads the Brain, Education, and Mind (BEAM) Lab, working at the intersection of education and neuroscience to research reading development, difficulties, and effects of intervention. Dr. Hogan directs the Speech and Language (SAiL) Literacy Lab, studying the genetic, neurologic, and behavioral links between oral and written language development.

Christodoulou and Hogan discussed several crucial skills that are necessary to identify students who are challenged readers, the potential causes for their individual challenges, and strategies to close the literacy achievement gap. Attendees learned the relevance of major cognitive neuroscience findings to literacy education, as well as the multiple pathways underlying reading difficulties. The goal was for participants to be able to distinguish common neuro- and behavioral myths and point to their counter-evidence, to understand how brain plasticity is related to reading intervention, and to practice evidence-based assessments based on an individual differences model.

The MGH Institute recently created a formal partnership with Harvard-Kent to improve pupils’ literacy skills and health while increasing opportunities for MGH Institute graduate students to learn about the needs of elementary school children. Professional development courses also will be offered to the public school’s teachers.

This was the first workshop offered by the CPD aimed at an audience other than health care providers. Previous topics have included human trafficking and the opioid crisis.

The CPD is offering two workshops this fall:
October 18: Point-of-Care Ultrasound Workshop for the Advanced Practice Provider, and
November 8: Climate Change, Climate Justice, and Environmental Health: An Introductory Workshop for Health Care Providers.