U.Va. Partners Expand Global Reach of Successful Literacy Screening Program

October 07, 2009

October 7, 2009 — The University of Virginia Patent Foundation, Curry School of Education and Office of the Vice President for Research have teamed up to bring an innovative reading assessment tool to teachers in the developing world.

Developed by Marcia A. Invernizzi and colleagues at U.Va. in 1997, Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening – or PALS – has become a gold standard for the reading assessment of pre-kindergarten through third-grade students. Today used to assess and improve the reading skills of children in 99 percent of Virginia public schools as part of the commonwealth's Early Intervention Reading Initiative, PALS assessments are also used throughout public and private schools in all 50 states and in several foreign countries.

PALS assessment kits measure young children's knowledge of important literacy fundamentals, such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, knowledge of letter sounds, spelling, concept of word, word recognition in isolation and oral passage reading.

When several PALS assessment kits recently became outdated due to technicalities such as changed user codes, which meant those kits could no longer be sold, the PALS Office at U.Va. saw an opportunity to expand the program's reach to benefit students and teachers in need in the developing world.

With support from the Patent Foundation, Curry School and Office of the Vice President for Research, the PALS Office was able to ship 53 literacy screening kits to schools on the island of St. Lucia, where teachers had expressed an interest in adopting the PALS program.

"We're so pleased to help expand the impact of these innovative educational resources and tools through this collaborative effort," said Miette H. Michie, interim executive director and CEO of the Patent Foundation. "My hope is that we in the University community will continue to think of creative ways to help others through our research discoveries and other resources."

In addition, PALS project manager Allison Drake traveled to St. Lucia in September to provide assessment training.

"These teachers are so enthusiastic and are doing so much with so few resources," Drake said. "They were excited to learn which skills were most essential for children learning to read and really appreciated having the materials to assess these skills in their students."

Drake met with 30 teachers from 12 island schools, training them to administer the PALS program and reviewing basic strategies for teaching early literacy skills measured by PALS. Drake also met with St. Lucia's minister for education and culture to discuss further potential collaboration between the schools and U.Va.'s PALS program.

"We are pleased to be able to support the efforts of the teachers in St. Lucia to promote early literacy among young children," said Robert C. Pianta, dean of the Curry School. "PALS has proven to be a tremendous help to teachers in the United States, and this effort in St. Lucia is one more example of extending that help."

Thomas C. Skalak, U.Va.'s vice president for research, said PALS has transformed how schools help their students develop literacy.

"This accomplishment is a shining exemplar of a primary University of Virginia mission, to disseminate new knowledge to those who need it most," he said.

Following her visit to St. Lucia, Drake has kept in close contact with the teachers who participated in her training sessions, many of whom have expressed interest in continued PALS training. The PALS Office is currently working to make PALS online scoring and reporting tools available to the teachers to assist them in screening, diagnosis and progress monitoring.

For information about PALS, visit www.pals.virginia.edu.