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Building the Reading Proficiency of Pennsylvania's Youngest Students

The following interview is an excerpt from Achieving Reading Proficiency by Third Grade, an educational webinar for school and district leaders.

Dr. Scott Miller

Principal at Avonworth Primary Center

Dr. Scott Miller is principal at Avonworth Primary Center (K-2) part of the Avonworth School District located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Prior to his current role, Dr. Miller was assistant principal at Avonworth Elementary and taught 6th grade math at Avonworth Middle School. His research interests include early childhood education pedagogy, creativity in the elementary school setting as part of effective lesson design, implementation of Common Core State Standards, and the development of makerspaces.

Q: What is one of the biggest challenges students and teachers face in solidifying strong reading skills at an early age?

Scott Miller: As a primary center, we’re trying to take all students - with their various backgrounds and experiences - and meet them where they’re at. Coming into kindergarten, students have a variety of pre-k experiences. It’s up to us to know each child, figure out where they’re at as an individual, and make a learning plan from there.

From a literacy and reading perspective, we have to continue to provide a balanced literacy framework and keep that schedule and framework at priority. Our building is K-2, and oftentimes special events and different things get in the way, and we always have to go back to recognizing literacy as the foundation.

One big thing for us is looking at intervention versus curricular cohort issues. Since students in our building are only together for three years, we’re looking at student data to see if a specific student needs intervention or a cohort of students need support.


Q: Why is personalized learning so essential to nurturing strong reading skills?

Scott Miller: As educators we want every child to grow and maximize his or her potential. We need to personalize instruction and know our students' academic needs at all times. Personalization allows us to meet students where they are with small groups. We can use personalization to infuse literacy throughout the day, not just in a reading block, but in social studies and math classes as well.


“As educators we want every child to grow and maximize his or her potential. We need to personalize instruction and know our students academic needs at all times.”

Q: How are you diagnosing student skill levels and monitoring progress toward goals of literacy and reading comprehension?

Scott Miller: We use a mix of formal and informal observation and assessments. We use NWEA and DIBELS early indicator assessment on a trimester basis. Each trimester we create a student profile using data points from those assessments and review as a team. We’re team based, and even though there’s a regular education teacher as their homeroom teacher, each grade level has a special education teacher, a half-time reading specialist, and a grade level paraprofessional. We’re inclusive, and all professionals can work with all students. We use that to our advantage in reading blocks to do small group reading.

Q: How has technology impacted the way Avonworth students learn reading skills?

Scott Miller: We’ve been using eSpark. With eSpark we’re able to use NWEA scores to determine where students are at. During center time, students work on their individual eSpark Quest. At the end of each Quest, students record a video that goes to the teacher dashboard. Teachers are using that as real-time feedback to ensure everyone is participating. Those videos have been helpful to guide instruction and make student-teacher conferences more personal.

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In this video, a student uses eSpark to record his answer to 2.RF.3a, Long and Short Vowels.


In Frontier, students give and recieve peer feedback through integrated tools.


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Student Population

340 K-2 students; 14% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch


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