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Literacy at SFUSD

What is "literacy"?

Literacy is the ability to read and write.


How does SFUSD currently teach reading and writing?

The way SFUSD teaches reading and writing is shaped by the State of California’s academic content standards for English language arts (ELA). In August 2010, the California State Board of Education joined with 45 other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards for ELA. The Common Core State Standards for ELA were then translated into a English Language Arts/English Language Development (ELA/ELD) Framework, which provides guidance to school districts on ELA/ELD curriculum content and pedagogy by grade, ELA/ELD assessment, and access and equity in implementation.

Within the state frameworks, SFUSD follows its SFUSD E/LA PK-12 Core Curriculum. For more information, visit the SFUSD Curriculum Page and the SFUSD’s English/Language Arts Department Page.

Though there is an SFUSD core curriculum, schools can chose their own curricula, which has led to a mix of ELA/ELD options across the district.

Many SFUSD elementary schools utilize a “balanced literacy” curricula, which combines teacher-led Units of Study, reading workshops during which students read “just right” books, and independent reading. In many SFUSD elementary school classrooms, students choose their “just right books” from Fountas and Pinnell (F&P) libraries, moving up to higher F&P levels as they become stronger readers.


Why do SFUSD elementary schools use balanced literacy for teaching literacy?

The desired outcome of this approach is creating joyful and successful readers by sparking a love a reading at a young age through pairing students with books of their choosing at the right level of challenge and rigor, with teachers moving from different groups of students and making sure everyone is reaching the learning target.

One criticism of this approach is that it requires significant and potentially expensive professional development (often paid for by PTA/PTO fundraising to send teachers to Columbia Teachers College) in order to implement successfully. Another criticism of balanced literacy is that it does not spend sufficient time on phonics—this is the “science of reading” critique.


How well does SFUSD’s approach for teaching literacy work?

Regardless of the centuries-long "reading wars," we know that SFUSD's approach to literacy instruction is NOT working.

One measure of effectiveness is the State of California’s Smarter Balanced Assessment, a standardized test that is administered at grades 3-8 and 11. Results of this test show that SFUSD students who identify as White and Asian meet or exceed ELA standards at far higher rates than do students who identify as Latinx and African American, and that this differential has existed for many years. In 2019 only 16% of SFUSD’s Black students, 18% of SFUSD’s English learners and 17% of SFUSD’s students with disabilities met state standards in English Language Arts. 

The California Reading Report Card ranks districts by how well socioeconomically disadvantaged Latinx third graders perform on reading tests, providing an “apples to apples” comparison that gives a good picture of how well districts teach reading. SFUSD falls in the bottom  10% of the 287 districts listed in the California Reading Report Card. SFUSD gets an “F” in supporting Latinx students in meeting reading standards.


What is SFUSD doing to address this failure?

In 2021, SFUSD hired a consultant, TNTP, to audit the district’s K-5 literacy program. The consultants’ partial findings were that instructional materials needed to be strengthened and that literacy programs needed to be made more consistent district-wide, with a clear vision of what excellent literacy education looks like.

(SF Parent Coalition and SF Ed Fund co-hosted a webinar event, What's the Latest with Literacy at SFUSD?, in April 2022).


What can parents do if their child is struggling to read?