Early Literacy

Kentucky Reading Academies

Published: 5/1/2024 6:09 AM

​​​​​​Empowering kindergarten through grade five teachers to improve student literacy through evidence-based professional learning 

Why Early Literacy?

A child’s ability to read is a critical predictor of both educational and lifelong success. Students must have every opportunity to gain and strengthen this skill, and teachers must be equipped and empowered in the teaching of reading to best support their students. To support this goal, the Kentucky Department of Education is launching a new, exciting partnership, called the Kentucky Reading Academies, which brings the LETRS, Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, professional learning opportunity to educators across the commonwealth. 

Through LETRS, teachers gain essential knowledge to master the fundamentals of literacy instruction required to transform student learning and create a more vibrant experience for each and every young reader.​

Interested in Learning More?

View the recording of the Phase 1 informational webinar to learn more.

Timeline and Registration Information 

The Kentucky Reading Academies will be implemented in three phases:

  • Cohort/Phase 1 - Fall 2022 – Spring 2024 
  • Cohort/Phase 2 - Fall 2023 – Spring 2025
  • Cohort/Phase 3 - Fall 2024 – Spring 2026​

Registration for the Kentucky Reading Academies: Cohort 3 of LETRS Professional Learning NOW OPEN!

Registration for the third Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) cohort of the Kentucky Reading Academies will be open May 1, 2024 through August 30, 2024. 

The Kentucky Reading Academies is a comprehensive no-cost professional learning opportunity open to all K-5 public school educators.  

Two different courses are being offered through the Kentucky Reading Academies: LETRS for Educators and LETRS for Administrators. Interested educators can join the Kentucky Reading Academies by registering for the course that pertains to their role:  

More than 4,000 Kentucky educators and administrators are completing the LETRS professional learning. Participants in both cohorts have stated that LETRS is a comprehensive professional learning that is enlightening, eye opening and life changing.  

Please NOTE: Cohort 1 and Cohort 2 participants will not need to register for Cohort 3, as they are already enrolled in the professional learning.  ​

The 2-Year LETRS for Educators PL Course of Study

Each cohort group will engage in professional learning over two years and cover eight professional learning units on topics essential for literacy instruction, including phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, writing and assessment. Each unit will include asynchronous, self-paced study and six hours of facilitator-led learning. Participants must commit to completing the full two-year course and will devote approximately an hour each week plus six hours for each unit for live training to complete the program. 

The 1​-Year LETRS for Administrators PL Course of Study

LETRS for Administrators enables leaders to effectively support educators as they engage in the LETRS course of study and work to implement the learnings in their classrooms. LETRS for Administrators is a professional learning opportunity designed to guide state, district, and building administrators and instructional leaders in creating adaptable and suitable literacy initiatives using systems thinking and implementation science. The program defines the systems and infrastructures required to successfully implement a sustainable literacy program aligned to scientifically based research.

LETRS For Administrators Program Overvie​w​

LETRS Facilitator Training Opportunity Now Available: Are you interested in becoming a LETRS Facilitator for your local district?

District LETRS Facilitators will play a crucial role in facilitating LETRS sessions and guaranteeing the long-term viability of your district's LETRS instructional application as you go through the professional learning and welcome new cohorts of teachers, both new to teaching and new to your district.

Participants must meet specific requirements in order to be eligible to apply for training to become a District LETRS Facilitator, including having at least 80% of the district's K–3 educators participating in LETRS and applicants receiving a score of 88% or above on the posttest. Those who​ are accepted are expected to complete a four-day training session in the fall of 2024.

Individuals who are interested in participating in District LETRS Facilitator training should view the complete list of requirements within the application​ for training​.

The application will close May 31, 2024.​

A Systematic Ap​proach

We strongly encourage a systemic approach wherein the entire school/district staff; entire vertical and/or horizontal professional learning communities; and administrators participate together. We recognize that participating in this systemic training will take time. Therefore, we encourage leaders to work thoughtfully to outline the best plan for their building/district. Yet, we will allow for maximum flexibility needed for participation: Individual teachers may choose to participate. 

The KDE is committed to supporting the success of this initiative. Districts and schools with a commitment to building sustainability may reach out to Christie Biggerstaff, Director of Early Literacy, at christie.biggerstaff@education.ky.gov, for additional information on the Kentucky Reading Academies. 

What are Cohort 1 Participants saying?

Over 1,800 Kentucky educators and administrators are completing the LETRS professional learning in Cohort 1. A total of 433 P​hase 1 participants responded to a January 2022 survey regarding the professional learning experience. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. 

  • 95% of participants say they were learning NEW information.

  • 95% of participants say the information they were learning was RELEVANT to their role and responsibilities.

  • 93% of participants say that the information they have learned has helped them to better meet the diverse learning needs of their students.  

 LETRS Participants Video

Educator Testimonials 
This has been the best learning experience I have had in 19 years of teaching. I wish that I had access to this experience when I first started teaching. I will be recommending this to all of my teaching colleagues!”
~Mark Gaskins, Fort Thomas 

“LETRS is a rigorous course that has provided me with so much information about teaching foundational skills. I have been able to apply my knowledge almost immediately after each self-guided and live virtual session I have completed.”
~Christy Rhodes, Jefferson County  

“The interventionists have been bragging on my tier 3 students and how much better they are at decoding since using some of the sound wall components! It is truly making a difference in the reading confidence and abilities of my students.” 
~Neryssa Crisp, Scott County

“LETRS training has been a valuable experience for me as an educational leader. It has given me a deeper understanding of the essential knowledge necessary for transformational change with reading instruction in our primary grades. “
~Kristy Nelson, Livingston County 

“I have many credentials to teach a student to read. However, there have been students for whom I have not made the difference I wanted to make. I am a quarter of the way through the LETRS training. This is the training I have been seeking for decades. Every teacher should have this training. It is, hands down, the best training I have ever received. It does take time, BUT, this training is well worth making the time to take. This is the training that will help us help our students. I am so glad I signed up.”
~Cindy Kennedy, Rockcastle County 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is this initiative needed?

The impact of COVID-19 has been pronounced among early learners, for whom development of reading and writing skills is critical to success in all subjects and later grades. As research indicates, students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to not finish high school. 

K-PREP grade three reading data reveals that Kentucky has been losing ground in reading achievement since 2017, and as a result, there is an urgent need to address reading growth. Specifically, in 2019, approximately 50 percent of Kentucky’s third graders did not score at or above proficiency in reading.

Additionally, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reveal the downward trend in grade 4 reading results, leaving Kentucky ranked 23rd in the nation, based on 2018-2019 data. Most alarmingly, 33% of Kentucky students scored below basic on the 4th grade assessment in reading. 

While teachers are the most essential factor in student success, only 49 percent of teaching institutions nationally effectively prepare teachers for literacy instruction. To counteract unfinished learning and improve the trajectory for student outcomes, KDE is offering professional learning reading academies for K-5 educators.  

What is the research base for this initiative? 

LETRS is an evidence-based training that provides professional learning grounded in reading research for educators. The reading research represents a body of comprehensive and multi-disciplinary evidence for how students learn to read and write proficiently, why some students struggle and how educators can teach and intervene, if necessary. 

Are teachers required to participate?

Participation is not required by the KDE, but there are numerous benefits for participating. The Kentucky Reading Academies will help educators utilize evidence-based approaches to reading and writing instruction designed to improve reading and writing proficiency. Because reading and writing proficiently are building blocks to success in future grades and courses and in postsecondary pursuits, the Reading Academies will provide educators with the tools needed to help students be successful lifelong readers and writers. Thus, teachers are strongly encouraged to participate. 

Will training sessions be live or virtual?

Participants will attend live virtual training sessions. Multiple sessions are offered with a variety of times. Participants can choose to participate in two sperate three hour sessions or one six hour session throughout the day, in the evening, or on Saturdays.

Why should teachers participate in the Kentucky Reading Academies?

Participating educators will be equipped with evidence-based professional learning on HOW students learn to read that can be used and applied in their classrooms throughout their careers. 

What should participants expect?

Participants will spend time each week in asynchronous instruction, including videos and independent reading and will apply information from the week’s lesson through an activity with their students and complete short checks for understanding. Participants should plan to spend approximately an hour each week on these activities. At the end of each unit, which will take 6-8 weeks to complete, educators will complete the unit assessment and attend training with a facilitator to reinforce content from that unit

How can districts encourage participation and ensure their teachers’ success in this professional learning series?

Districts may encourage groups of educators to participate together, allowing time in Professional Learning Communities to reflect on their learning. Districts also may choose to offer a stipend, or honorarium, to teachers who complete all requirements of the Reading Academies with federal relief funds (ESSER I, II and III). Title II, Part A, funds may be an option IF general funds are not available and IF the training meets an identified need and is outside of the instructional day. District funds also may be used to further the initiative to additional grade levels. Interested educators should check with their district for specific information. ​

For information about federal coronavirus relief funding, please see the American Rescue Act FAQs​.


For questions about the Kentucky Reading Academies, contact Christie Biggerstaff, Director of Early Literacy, at christie.biggerstaff@education.ky.gov​.

KY Reads to Succeed Logo

​Who is eligible to register?

Kentucky Reading Academies are for educators who teach reading or work with K-5 students in Kentucky public schools (e.g., general and special education teachers, reading specialists, administrators, and those who teach English Learners (EL) or in Title 1 schools). 

How can educators register for the academies?

Registration for Phase 3 of the Kentucky Reading Academies will be open May 1, 2024 through August 30, 2024. 

LETRS for Educators Cohort 3 Registration: This course is recommended for K-5 teachers, interventionists, reading specialists and anyone providing reading instruction or intervention supports to early readers.

LETRS for Administrators Cohort 3 Registration​: This course is recommended for district leaders, building administrators and instructional coaches.

Kentucky LETRS Website

Senate Bill 9 (2022) Implementation Timeline

Senate Bill 9 (2022), the Read to Succeed Act, contains an emergency clause, which allows the bill to become law effectively immediately upon its signing by the governor. The Senate Bill 9 Implementation Timeline document​ provides further guidance around what needs to be implemented when.

Support from KDE Leadership

"Kentucky educators deserve access to ongoing support in building early readers, writers and communicators who will be prepared to meet the future demands of college and career. Research demonstrates a positive link between high-quality professional learning, teaching practices and student outcomes. Effective professional learning not only has the potential to improve both classroom instruction and student outcomes, but also it can be effective in recruiting and retaining teachers."

-Micki Ray, Chief Academic Officer, Office of Teaching and Learning

"Kentucky's state reading data shows that we are losing the race centered around one of our most precious assets - literacy. It is the ​foundation on which our children's futures are built. Our children deserve the very best. The teachers and staff throughout Kentucky are phenomenal, and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they are capable and ready to take back the lead with respect to early literacy."
-Christie Biggerstaff, Director of Early Literacy

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