From IRRC Director Dr. Deborah K. Reed
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Iowa Reading Research Center
Monthly Email Update


The staff of the Iowa Reading Research Center and I would like to wish you a Happy New Year! We are excited to hit the ground running this calendar year as teachers and students return back from what I hope was a restful Winter Break.
I want to take a moment to look back at some of what we were able to accomplish together in 2021. And I do mean “we,” as collaboration with teachers, administrators, students, families, legislators, and other community members is a key component of everything we do.

Literacy Research

Our research identifies effective ways to teach and assess literacy skills. In response to an increased emphasis placed on student writing performance, much of our recent work has focused on identifying areas where writing instructional practices and assessment methods can be refined and improved.
We partnered with the Council Bluffs Community School District to evaluate the writing performance of students in Grades 7–11 using IRRC-developed writing scoring rubrics. Findings indicated that interim writing assessments evaluated by teachers could help guide writing instruction.
We developed writing prompts and scoring rubrics for Grades 1–6 in collaboration with the Marshalltown Community School District. These materials were used to study how predictive interim writing assessments were of student proficiency and how they could be used to plan writing instruction.
In addition to this relatively new work in writing, we also continued our research of summer reading programs. We evaluated the summer reading growth of students in the Council Bluffs CSD who were entering Grades 1–5 in the fall. The results will inform how district leadership can continue helping students and teachers overcome literacy learning challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures.


We are committed to translating what we and others learn through research into home and school practices for literacy instruction. By completing our eLearning modules developed by IRRC literacy experts, educators receive professional learning anytime and anywhere on effective literacy instructional methods and other relevant topics. In 2021, we released two new modules and updated a third. We also launched Digital Varied Practice Reading, our first eLearning platform for students.
The new Teaching Students to Map Phonemes to Graphemes module shows how to teach the early literacy skills of pronouncing letters and letter combinations that make up sounds in words. Students must master this before they can sound out words and become proficient readers.
The new Using Text Structures to Understand and Summarize Text module covers a seven-step instructional approach to teach students to recognize text structures authors use. This can help them better comprehend the text. Graphic organizers for each text structure are also introduced.


Digital Varied Practice Reading (VPR) allows schools to teach using the reading fluency instructional method for Grades 1–5 with their students able to access all materials through an online platform. Teachers can track students’ progress. The eLearning VPR module was updated with interactive enhancements.

Support for Reading Disabilities

Part of our mission to improve the literacy skills of all students involves assisting students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities. Initiatives involving the IRRC resulting from 2020’s dyslexia legislation began this year, including the dyslexia specialist endorsement program and Iowa Dyslexia Board.
The first group of educators was selected for the IRRC-coordinated dyslexia specialist endorsement program. The program prepares educators to distinguish dyslexia from other learning disabilities, facilitate accommodations, and offer other supports.
More families than ever took advantage of our free assistive technology consultation appointments, with a 195% increase in appointments. Families can meet with us in person or virtually to learn about devices and software to help their children with reading disabilities complete academic and everyday tasks.
The Iowa Dyslexia Board was established, with our Director Dr. Deborah K. Reed representing the IRRC. The board meets to oversee implementation of dyslexia instruction in the state and provide recommendations for continued improvement of such instruction.

Thank You

You also can read or distribute this information to others with our handout version. Additionally, seeing our 2021 reach and impact map really drives home how many districts, Area Education Agencies, educators, families, and others we have collaborated with and served the past year. Thank you to each of you for your partnership in 2021, and we look forward to working with you to help children learn to read and write this year.

New Year, New Staff

We are welcoming a new year and two new members to our team.

Rachel Wallace

Our new administrative services coordinator joins us having worked recently as the front-of-house manager for the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Rachel grew up in Greencastle, Ind., but was born in Cedar Rapids. She earned a master’s of science in HR development from Indiana State University.
Rachel is excited to work with diverse populations while supporting the daily operations of our center.
Away from the office, Rachel is active with Lasagna Love, a global nonprofit whose volunteers prepare and deliver home-cooked meals to local families. She enjoys tending to her large houseplant collection, checking out obscure and interesting places with her husband Jesse, and sipping from an iced macchiato.

Marshall Blatz

A third-year computer science and engineering major, Marshall is joining our computer programmer team. He plans to pursue a career in software engineering after graduation.
Marshall is looking forward to working on projects that he knows will benefit users directly, and gaining transferable experience both in the specific tasks he’ll be working on and in working in a professional environment.
In his free time, Marshall is the treasurer of the Google Developer Student Club and likes to sketch, read, play video games, and have breakfast for dinner whenever he gets the chance.

Thank you for reading!
Deborah K. Reed, Ph.D.
Director, Iowa Reading Research Center

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