Reaching Out to Kids

Curry professor, Marcia Invernizzi, develops a national model used to help thousands of young children improve their reading skills.

When Virginia education officials approached the Curry School in the late 1990s seeking advice on where to find an effective tool for literacy screening in young children, they found exactly what they were looking for.

That’s because Marcia Invernizzi, Edmund H. Henderson Professor of Education in Curry’s McGuffey Reading Center, had already developed and used similar devices successfully. Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS), which draws heavily from literacy assessments in use at McGuffey, measures kids’ knowledge of literacy fundamentals, including phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, word recognition, spelling, and oral reading.

PALS identifies students who need additional reading instruction, providing teachers explicit information about what these children already know and what they need to learn. With this knowledge, teachers are better able to meet students’ needs. Virginia adopted PALS to help teachers identify kindergarten and first-grade students who need additional reading instruction.

When the Commonwealth offered to help pay for the instruction, 95 percent of the districts signed on. In 2000 the state extended its support to kids in kindergarten through grade three. today, every Virginia district—14,000 teachers and 250,000 students annually—is currently participating.

While PALS is recognized as a national model in literacy screening, Invernizzi is hardly resting on her laurels. She and nine full-time employees are kept busy processing data, answering questions, and enhancing the product and its Web site. In addition to providing live customer service, her team offers an online assessment wizard, lesson plans, and student activities. “We’ve become a resource center for teachers seeking ways to ameliorate literacy problems,” she says.

Invernizzi’s next goal is the development of PALS Español. “The Spanish-speaking population is growing faster than any other group in Virginia and in many other places,” she says. “We must do whatever we can to meet the needs of these children.”