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NYC Middle School Quality Initiative

Now in its seventh academic year, the Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI) in New York City continues to make strides toward advancing the district-wide goal of improving adolescent literacy.

The initiative was launched by the city’s Department of Education in collaboration with the New York City Council Middle School Taskforce in fall 2011. Due to its success, it continues to grow and in the upcoming school year, even more schools will participate in MSQI, which aims to expand targeted and research-based teaching and learning practices to improve student literacy in high-need middle schools.

Of the MSQI partnering schools, a growing number implement Just Words®, Wilson’s Tier 2 intervention program, to help students read at or above grade level in preparation for the rigors of high school, college, and careers. This year, Just Words will be used in 32 NYC middle schools.

As a highly explicit, multisensory program, Just Words provides a sophisticated study of word structure and is designed for students in grades four through 12 and adults who have mild to moderate gaps in their decoding and spelling proficiency, but do not require intensive intervention.

“Just Words perfectly fits MSQI’s mission of having students in our middle schools graduate at or above an 8th grade reading level. It is effectively working to fill in the holes and gaps to have them achieve that goal,” said MSQI Program Director Daniel Wolf of the NYCDOE’s Office of Interschool Collaborative Learning.

“As a former Just Words teacher in an MSQI school, I can attest to the growth that is made on the Degrees of Reading Power assessment, as well as the Word Identification and Spelling Test and Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency after a year of complete implementation,” Mr. Wolf said.

For students in need of more intensive, Tier 3 instruction, MSQI schools use the Wilson Reading System® (WRS).

MSQI is described as a school-wide literacy improvement effort, where teachers and administrators hone their craft and are given tools and resources to track and improve student literacy skills. “The MSQI framework centers on students becoming successful readers and writers,” Mr. Wolf explained. “To achieve this goal, the MSQI team works to develop effective teaching across disciplines with deliberate teaching, strategic instruction, and tiered assessment. With that in place, we can engage students with complex texts through reading, writing, and discussion.”

The growing interest in Wilson programs among schools has moved MSQI to increase the number of Just Words and WRS training workshops, enhance communication between the schools and the MSQI team, and improve areas of implementation, said Mr. Wolf, who will complete Just Words facilitator training this year to enhance support for schools that use the program. In the upcoming year, 60 educators will participate in Just Words training; 60 will attend the three-day WRS introductory workshop, and 10 will begin WRS Level I Certification.

Members of the MSQI team and partnering schools are advised throughout the year by Wilson Literacy Advisor Linda Wernikoff, who previously served as NYC’s Executive Director of Special Education Initiatives. They are also coached and mentored by Wilson Literacy Specialists David Marsh and Roni Maschas.

In addition to the Wilson programs, the MSQI framework focuses on literacy leadership, professional learning, and teacher collaboration, as well as family and school partnerships, Mr. Wolf said. MSQI also promotes collaboration among educators by creating opportunities for inter-school visits that allow teachers to share successful and promising practices with colleagues. Debate tournaments, poetry slams, and parent-teacher home visits are among the methods used to improve literacy and parent engagement.

Mr. Wolf said the partnership with Wilson has been a key component of this literacy initiative. Barbara Wilson added, “It is our pleasure to be part of it, as both Just Words and the Wilson Reading System were designed to help schools meet their literacy goals with this student population and being part of such a comprehensive effort is exactly what we love to do!”

Pictured: Wilson Literacy Specialist David Marsh coaches and mentors educators who participate in New York City’s Middle School Quality Initiative.

(This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of The Decoder.)