Annual Report SY15-16

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Our Mission

To guide educators at all levels of through the process of creating schools which excel in developing students’ language and literacy skills.

Schools Served

Teachers Trained

Children Reached

“It is my goal to ensure that the HILL is in a position not only to continue building sustainable literacy models and improve reading outcomes in our current districts and state partnerships, but to also expand our reach throughout New England and beyond.”

Darci Burns, Ph.D.

Executive Director, HILL for Literacy

We Need to Change the Way Reading is Taught

Proficient readers leave third grade likely to succeed in school, advance to college, acquire high value skills, and prosper in their careers. When children enter fourth grade, they should transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” With the tools of literacy in hand, children can now master new academic concepts and learn to think critically.

But nearly two thirds of American children can’t read by the end of third grade and fall further behind their peers with each passing year. These kids stand a much higher risk of failing to graduate from high school. They will miss out on the skills our job market values at much higher rates. Over their lifetimes, they will earn hundreds of thousands of dollars less than their peers. They will have more involvement with drugs and jail.

American communities bear higher social costs because we fail these third grade children. American employers and our economy as a whole suffer from this needless waste of talent and human potential.

We must do better.

The Status Quo Isn't Working

Reading and writing proficiency measurements have barely budged over the last decade. Nearly two-thirds of American children fail to achieve reading and writing proficiency by the end of third grade.

Connecticut and Massachusetts rank among the leading states in student achievement. Yet nearly half of our kids fail this measure. In 2015 that meant more than 15,000 Massachusetts kids are on track for failure.

Like other educational disparities, this burden falls more heavily on children from minority families and children living in low-income communities and neighborhoods. But these kids aren’t the problem.

Research proves that 95 percent of all children are capable of learning to read well by the end of third grade, regardless of race, family income, and learning differences.

Our Current Reality:


of American 4th graders read and write at grade level


of 4th graders reading and writing at grade level.

The HILL Solution: Transform Whole Schools

Forty years of research shows that we can teach every child to read by the end of third grade, if teachers receive both skills training and consistent district policies of support. For more than a decade, HILL for Literacy has helped schools reach this goal. We understand what school leaders and teachers need to know and what they must be able to do to help struggling readers. Our methods are informed by science-based reading research and our work in real schools. Nationally recognized faculty of the MGH Institute of Health Professions, University of Oregon, and University of Connecticut with countless school administrators, reading coaches, and consultants have contributed to the development of HILL protocols and tools designed to assist schools to succeed in improving literacy outcomes for all students and in sustaining those improvements over time.

Today, as an independent organization and a team of experts led by Dr. Darci Burns, HILL for Literacy guides schools and districts through long-term change processes with five critical elements:

  1. Build leadership by engaging school and community leaders in commitments to reading achievement.
  2. Build commitment to research-based teaching methods among teachers and leaders.
  3. Nurture teacher excellence with training in evidence-based practices, followed up with expert embedded coaching and support over three to five years.
  4. Develop a data-driven culture that finds and overcomes literacy learning barriers.
  5. Customize instruction to meet each child’s specific learning needs.

Turnaround Results without the Turnaround Cost

We saw a straight up increase in high school test scores among kids who benefited from the HILL model a decade ago.

Liz Sorrell

Former Superintendent, Carver Public Schools

A decade ago, Carver, MA chose to invest scarce resources in an elementary literacy initiative in partnership with the HILL. Now those kids attend Carver High School and recently achieved 98% proficiency—the best in the state—on statewide English Language Arts tests.

Chelsea, MA also collaborated with the HILL to implement a school-wide data driven model and tiered instructional support system for their school district which serves a large population of low income and English-language Learners students.  During the initiative, about 40 percent of students began the school year at “high risk” for low academic success. By the end of the year fewer than 10 percent faced those same risks.

Most recently, we replicated these results in Hartford, CT as part of the Connecticut K-3 Literacy Initiative. In the example below, a failing school with high poverty, high ELL status has shown a gain in students performing at grade level (green) and a significant reduction in students below (yellow) or well below grade level (red) yearly.

School Year 2015-16 Program Accomplishments

Connecticut’s K-3 Literacy Initiative

HILL for Literacy is a partner in the Connecticut K-3 Literacy Initiative (CK3LI) funded through legislation developed by General Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus to train teachers and administrators in the best research-based literacy practices and address the state’s achievement gap – one of the worst in the country – from the earliest grades. We participated in the pilot study and for the last two years we’ve brought our literacy leadership training to 32 elementary schools in urban districts across the state. The initiative began in 2012 and participating schools are already seeing tremendous growth in their scores.

Multi-Tiered Academic Support Academy

In Fall 2015, HILL for Literacy began collaborating with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) to offer an intensive professional development opportunity designed to train school and district teams in their development and implementation of school and district-wide tiered systems of literacy support. The program will span three years and multiple cohorts. We’re partnering with experts in middle and high school literacy to provide district and school leaders with the necessary tools to evaluate current literacy practices, and to build a multi-tiered instructional and assessment model utilizing scientifically research-based methods, an embedded professional development plan, and systems for measuring fidelity of implementation and effectiveness of instruction.

HILL Online

In July 2015, HILL for Literacy launched our first online training as part of our HILL Online initiative to take much of our content knowledge to a new digital delivery platform.  Our online courses include short video segments, modeling of effective instruction, downloads of classroom tools, unit plans by grade level, progress assessment, community discussions, and Q&A.  Our goal for HILL Online is to complement our embedded work in schools, increase knowledge transfer, decrease costs of delivery, and provide blended learning opportunities. With courses available directly to teachers, overcoming distance and cost barriers, HILL Online has the potential to deliver our training in evidence-based practices nation-wide.

Key Partners

A.D. Makepeace Company
Center on Teaching and Learning, University of Oregon
Center for Behavioral Education & Research, University of Connecticut
Commonwealth Learning Online Institute
Connecticut State Department of Education
Keys to Literacy
Literacy How
Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education
Professional Training Institute
The Reading Institute

Our Supporters

For a complete list of HILL Supporters, please click the link below.

Our Schools

For a complete list of HILL Schools, please click the link below.


from FY 2014-15 financial audit



For more about the administrative side of the HILL, please see the links below.

Contact Us for a Consultation

HILL for Literacy
800 West Cummings Park, Suite 3375
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone/Fax: 888.860.0190

Email Us Now

How Can I Help My Community?

We don’t take the challenge of teaching kids to read lightly: according the 2013 NAEP results, 66% of 4th graders fail to read at grade level each year and we know that we can help them. How? Working with leadership-oriented principals and superintendents, and supported by the highest-quality literacy professionals in the nation, HILL for Literacy helps schools transform into efficient, systemic platforms for literacy excellence. Contact us to find out how we can help your school or district today, or click below to learn more about how you can support our programs in your community!

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