Their high schools are top tier with an academically challenging, diverse curriculum, including upwards of 25 AP classes, small learning communities, and visual art and performance options in the School of Visual and Performing Arts (SVPA). 

The district’s demographics are as diverse as their learning structures, comprising approximately 50% White, 30% Black, 10% Hispanic, and 10% Asian students with varying linguistic backgrounds. Additionally, 19% of Montclair’s students require an IEP. Addressing the diverse needs of its community is an integral part of the district’s learning culture. 

In Montclair’s robust and diverse education landscape, a transformative journey toward the Science of Reading has been underway, catalyzing a remarkable shift in how teachers approach literacy instruction and how students learn. 

Their initial curriculum was well-positioned in the Science of Reading (SoR), but proved difficult in aligning skill-honing strategies, specifically ensuring comprehensive support for students struggling with skill retention, and grappling with the impact of the pandemic on emotional and academic needs, notably in 1st and 3rd grade. 

Montclair’s commitment to innovative education embraces a new paradigm – the Structured Literacy approach.

The IMSE Approach

The district’s shift toward Structured Literacy commenced around two years ago, led by educators Carla Perez, Director of Student Support Services, and Jill McLaughlin, Director of Elementary Education, recognizing the absence of evidence-based reading instruction in college teacher preparation programs. The quest for a solution led them to the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE), renowned for proficiency in Orton-Gillingham (OG), a key literacy framework based on the Science of Reading.

The initiative began with a cohort of teachers participating in OG training in collaboration with a local university, Fairleigh Dickinson. Educationally effective, this initial endeavor promoted the expansion, with the help of funding sources, from K-3 to K-8, incorporating morphology courses. Today, 36 K-8 Montclair educators are trained in IMSE’s Comprehensive OG+ course, in IMSE’s Morphology course, and 13 have obtained IMSE’s Fidelity Certification.

As implementation progressed, IMSE became a vital resource for intervention, enabling the district’s teachers to pinpoint gaps in students’ reading abilities and tailor specific instructions all the while building upon and complementing their existing core curriculum. According to Perez, the shift was palpable, offering a more targeted approach that effectively empowered teachers to address skill retention challenges.

Consequently, the outcomes have been strikingly positive. Montclair witnessed a significant increase in grade-level reading proficiency in a relatively short time. Notably, 80% of kindergarteners and 82% of 2nd graders are reading on grade level. These metrics position the district well above the state average, particularly noteworthy in the 3rd grade, where 62% of Montclair’s students are reading at or above grade level, far exceeding the statewide 42.4%.

Moving forward, Montclair’s literacy journey is poised to further elevate its initiatives through high-impact tutoring grants, training additional teachers with IMSE, and fostering the growth of district trainers to ensure sustainability. Montclair also plans to send two teachers through IMSE’s practicum to develop a district trainer.

Montclair’s journey with Structured Literacy through IMSE’s OG is a resounding success story with a substantial positive impact on its students’ reading proficiency. The district’s dedication to fostering a community of confident and proficient readers is inspiring, laying the foundation for academic success and lifelong learning for its students. 

Please connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest to get tips and tricks from your peers and us. Read the IMSE Journal to hear success stories from other schools and districts, and be sure to check out our digital resources for refreshers and tips.