Supporting Local Literacy Efforts with ESSER and ARP Funds

Originally published October 2021

As states continue to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allocated the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Program (ESSER) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to local education agencies. These funds will help local education agencies respond to emergent needs in schools and communities. The following information can serve as a guide for districts, community schools and stakeholders as they make local decisions regarding how to direct ESSER and ARP funds to programs and initiatives.


Impact on Literacy

The Ohio Department of Education recently released Data Insights: Evidence of the Pandemic’s Impact on Students in 2020-2021 which found that:
  • Across most grades, English language arts proficiency rates generally decreased by about eight percentage points.
  • Based on Ohio’s state assessments, third-grade students demonstrated roughly 20 percent less learning on average between November 2020 and April 2021 (between the fall and spring administration of the English language arts exam) as compared to students in prior years.
  • Historically underserved students experienced the greatest decreases in learning as a result of the pandemic, sometimes two to three times more than their peers. This is typical in situations where learning is disrupted. Differences among student subgroups were greater in English language arts than in math.
The U.S. Department of Education emphasized supporting student populations who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic increased challenges and barriers for students including inconsistent access to literacy supports.


Identifying the Needs and Building the Plan

Local education agencies are required to submit plans for the use of ESSER ARP funds. A first step in the planning process is to identify needs using the One Needs Assessment and then build a plan with a broad range of stakeholders as part of the ED STEPS process.
As part of the planning process, local education agencies are encouraged to analyze local data that can help identify strengths and existing gaps in student achievement. Additionally, the local education agency is encouraged to analyze the professional development needs of staff related to any instructional practices, materials or assessments.

General Funding Considerations and Practical Advice

The ESSER ARP federal funds are one-time investments that should be managed carefully. These funds generally should not be used to provide on-going services, as such service may have to be abruptly terminated when federal funds expire. Rather, the funds should be used for one-time or short-duration intensive supports that address impact of the education disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic or that otherwise build the capacity of the system to operate effectively or meaningfully for students. More information on using ESSER ARP funds may be found in the comprehensive ESSER ARP guidance created by the Ohio Department of Education.
In general, when determining strategies to spend the ESSER I, ESSER II and ESSER ARP funds, local education agencies should consider the following five questions:
  1. Will the proposed use of funds “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus”?
  2. Is the proposed use of funds allowable under the Coronavirus Aid, Resources and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act and/or the American Rescue Plan (ARP)? Click here for a broad list of ESSER ARP allowable uses.   
  3. Is the proposed use of funds reasonable and necessary?
  4. Does the proposed use of funds promote equity?
  5. Does the proposed use of funds support returning students to the classroom?

Strategies for Funding Literacy Supports

ESSER and ARP funds should be used strategically to support accelerated literacy development in kindergarten through grade 12. Local education agencies are encouraged to consider how they can embed evidence-based language and literacy strategies throughout all content areas to support students in accelerating their reading, writing and communication development.
Below are examples of how local education agencies can direct their funds to address the literacy needs of students:
  • Summer learning can be used to extend the school year and provide needed language and literacy supports while also enhancing the home-to-school connection. Summer learning may occur in a school setting, at a location run by a community partner or through virtual supports.
    • For students working on basic literacy skills, this may consist of a combination of explicit instruction for learning basic reading skills and project-based learning for building knowledge. This learning should be designed around specific student strengths and needs. Schools may want to consider using end-of-year data when designing instructional opportunities and beginning-of-year data to measure growth. Any data collected during the summer should be shared with the student’s teacher in the fall.
    • For all students, schools will want to consider how literacy instruction and support are comprehensively embedded in all components of summer learning. For example, if students are participating in a science-based learning experience, literacy supports can be embedded by training educators to use text sets and writing frames.
  • After-school activities can be used to extend the school day and provide needed literacy supports. Local education agencies are encouraged to consider the specific strengths, interests and needs (both academic and social-emotional) of students when designing after-school activities.
    • After-school activities should not be used to provide literacy instruction that is expected to take place during the regular school day or be used as a negative consequence for student performance.
    • Local education agencies are encouraged to embed literacy supports into engaging after-school activities. For example, if the local education agency is providing an after-school debate club, literacy-based scaffolding strategies can be implemented so all interested students can participate. This might include support for building background knowledge in a topic area, vocabulary instruction and relevant writing strategies.
    • If after-school activities include intervention or tutoring, they should align to the instruction the student receives during the school day and support acceleration in a targeted skill through deliberate practice and clear, immediate feedback as opposed to providing new instruction to a student after a full day of learning. In addition, when after-school learning is occurring virtually or through a computer-based program, it is important for the teacher to provide feedback to both students and families before, during and after sessions.
  • Components of a multi-tiered system of supports, including assessments, materials for differentiation, instructional materials and partnering with families can be supported through ESSER and ARP funds. Local education agencies are encouraged to audit their kindergarten through grade 12 curriculum resources (core instruction and intervention) and literacy assessment systems to determine if they are adequately addressing the literacy strengths and needs of students. To provide for the most effective and efficient approach to literacy acceleration, local education agencies will want to ensure their core instructional practices and intervention practices are aligned. Additionally, local education agencies are encouraged to identify ways to partner with families to increase acceleration efforts.
    • In elementary school, local education agencies are encouraged to look critically at their reading instruction practices and materials and determine if these practices and materials match the current needs of their students. A school that may have previously been able to ensure all children are reading at grade level by the end of first grade might find itself with higher percentages of students needing additional support for the next few years. This support may be realized through a change in core instruction, rather than additional intervention resources.
    • For older students, local education agencies are encouraged to look critically at their cross-content area literacy practices. Are students supported in growing their literacy skills in all content areas through high impact strategies like classroom discussion, reciprocal teaching and writing about texts? Are educators supported in growing students’ literacy skills in all content areas? Local education agencies are encouraged to view accelerating literacy skills as the responsibility of all educators, not just the English language arts faculty. This can be done through defining, training and measuring the literacy practices used in the content areas.
  • High-quality professional development can be used to support educators in accelerating literacy development in students. High-quality professional development is sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven and instructionally focused. Local education agencies are encouraged to provide professional development to educators on any new practice, assessment or instructional materials they may be using to support accelerated literacy development. These funds may also be used to support the professional development requirements of Ohio’s dyslexia support laws.
  • Ohio’s dyslexia support laws: In 2021, a set of laws strengthening dyslexia supports for Ohio’s children went into effect. Districts will be required to begin implementing Ohio’s dyslexia support laws in the 2022-2023 school year. Ohio’s dyslexia support laws establish dyslexia screening measures (ORC 3323.251), professional development for identifying dyslexia and instructing students with dyslexia (ORC 3319.077), a multi-sensory structured literacy certification process for teachers (ORC 3319.078) and the Ohio Dyslexia Committee (ORC 3323.25). Districts are encouraged to use ESSER and ARP dollars to fund the following dyslexia support law requirements:
    • Professional development courses for identifying characteristics of dyslexia and understanding the pedagogy for instructing students with dyslexia;
    • Courses and training for a multi-sensory certification process for teachers;
    • Tier 1 dyslexia screeners to identify students at risk for dyslexia; and
    • Tier 2 dyslexia screeners for students at-risk for dyslexia with no progress observed during the monitoring period.
Please Note: The Department and the Ohio Dyslexia Committee have not yet approved any professional development programs or dyslexia screeners to fulfill the dyslexia support law’s requirements. When the Department finalizes the approved lists of professional development programs and dyslexia screeners, the Department immediately will notify district leaders and the Ohio education community. The due date for these activities is Dec. 31, 2021. The Department also will post the approved lists on the Ohio dyslexia supports webpage.

Special Note: LEAs should expect significant oversight by state and federal auditors on the spending of their ESSER ARP federal funds. The LEA should have a written explanation of how the expenditure using these ESSER ARP funds was made to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that the LEA maintain documentation and be able to provide evidence that demonstrates compliance with the allowable uses of these federal resources.


Additional resources to support literacy acceleration in students

The local education agency may want to consider using the Department’s Local Literacy Plan Professional Development Template. This template is designed to align to a local education agency’s Local Literacy Plan and the Every Student Succeeds Act’s components of high-quality professional development.
The Department published Professional and Instructional Resources Implemented by Striving Readers Subgrantees and Early Literacy Pilot Schools in April 2020 to support interested applicants for the Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant. Local education agencies may want to view this resource when considering using ESSER and ARP funds to purchase literacy resources and professional development.
Short-term “vacation” academies are a learning recovery option that have shown positive literacy and mathematics results in several sites. This collection of short videos and other materials explains the features of successful academies, reports on research about the impact of academies on student achievement and describes ways to adapt the academies to address interrupted learning caused by the pandemic.
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Last Modified: 1/21/2022 12:23:19 PM