2021 Grants Challenge

Reading Partners: Literacy Without Barriers in a Post-COVID World

In Los Angeles public schools, COVID-19 has stalled progress for our most vulnerable students. While Reading Partners has pivoted programming to adapt to the online environment and provided intensive, individualized literacy tutoring and seen incredible results, we know there is more work to be done. Through our new virtual programming, Reading Partners plans to extend our reach to the countless number of students who need support building foundational reading skills after a disrupted learning, reaching 1000 additional students by 2025.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

Central LA

San Gabriel Valley

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

Students from economically disadvantaged communities are at the highest risk of COVID-19 related learning loss. A June 2020 report from McKinsey and Company anticipates that most students will have lost an average of 7 months of learning due to COVID-19, but Black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Latinx students by 9.2 months, and students from low-income households by more than a year. While this study is startling, it doesn’t account for the additional eight months of virtual learning we’ve experienced in the Great Los Angeles Area. Without quality, regular instruction from their teachers, adequate educational resources, and our continued support, these students are at risk of falling further behind their peers who have access to more resources. This disruption in learning will widen existing achievement gaps by 15 to 20 percent and have lifetime effects on our students’ educational opportunities, income, and health.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

Reading Partners empowers students to develop mastery of key reading skills through data-informed, curriculum-driven, one-on-one tutoring led by trained volunteers. Our traditional program works as follows: In each of our partner schools, we transform space into a reading center and work with school staff to identify 40-80 students for tutoring. We recruit at least 50 volunteer tutors per school. Student-tutor pairs work for 45 minutes twice per week, using an individualized reading plan based on regular student skill assessments. During the 2020-21 school year, our program model looked quite different. We introduced to the virtual space Reading Partners Connects, bringing our traditional, structured lessons and curriculum to an online environment. Using video conferencing and our digital library, tutors provided students with a 45-minute tutoring session twice per week, echoing our in-person model. Although our program method of program delivery is different, our overarching goal remains the same as we pursue educational equity for our students and help them achieve measurable literacy growth. With this new, virtual program, Reading Partners is eliminating barriers for students who need individualized, one-on-one support, giving us the ability to extend our reach to any corner of Los Angeles with the power of technology. Using this new tool, Reading Partners plans to double the number of students we support in some of Los Angeles's most vulnerable communities.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 1,500

Indirect Impact: 3,500

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Reading is the foundation of all learning. While we know that according to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, only 21 percent of fourth-graders from low-income communities are reading proficiently, we also know that literacy tutoring, particularly in grades K-3, can have a profound, positive impact on student literacy achievement. In fact, when systemically disadvantaged students are reading at grade level by third grade, they are thirteen times more likely to graduate on time from high school (Sparks, “Study: Third Grade Reading Predicts Later High School Graduation”). Equipping students with the foundational literacy skills they need to succeed unlocks lasting opportunities that can have a profound impact on their academic achievement and lifelong learning.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

In the 2020-21 school year, we measured the success of our program against the following metrics: Objective 1: 78% of all Reading Partners’ students will meet or exceed their primary, individualized end-of-year literacy growth goal. Objective 2: 85% of all K-2 students will master grade-appropriate foundational literacy skills, putting them on track to read at or above grade level by third grade. Objective 3: 70% of all students in grades 3-4 will show growth in reading scores compared to a national group of peers in the same grade. Objective 4: 70% of students show improvement in academic behaviors such as class participation and homework completion, as measured by surveys. Objective 5: 90% of teachers and principals identify Reading Partners as a valuable asset to their school, as measured by surveys. As of April 1, Reading Partners has only collected middle-of-year assessment results, and early indicators show that our students are on track to meet or exceed the above goals.

Which of the LEARN metrics will you impact?​

High school graduation rates

Student proficiency in English & Language Arts