Lisa Vernon-Dotson (third from left) and five other Ohio higher education leaders

College of Education has fully implemented science of reading into curriculum

Published on July 02, 2024
College of Education

ASHLAND, Ohio – Ashland University has fully implemented science of reading standards— research-based literacy instruction—in its Dwight Schar College of Education curriculum to align with the expectations of state lawmakers as well as the many school districts it works with.

Lisa Vernon-Dotson, Ph.D. (pictured third from left), dean of the Dwight Schar College of Education, has headed the effort to update the content in AU’s education courses and was among a small group of leaders who testified in front of the Ohio House Higher Education Committee in late May. Lawmakers wanted to hear from colleges and universities that were aligned with the new state literacy policy ahead of the January 2025 deadline.

“(AU’s) new curriculum does not address any content that is contrary to research-based practices,” Vernon-Dotson testified. “Our programs focus on multi-tiered instruction, structured literacy, data for effective instruction, language comprehension and rigorous texts for all. We focus on building our teacher candidates’ knowledge and skills in teaching phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.”

Vernon-Dotson, who was a member of the Reading First Teacher Education Network (an initiative by the U.S. Department of Education from 2003-05), noted that “initiating these changes has not been an easy endeavor, but it has been a worthwhile one.”

The science of reading is based on decades of research with a goal of developing best practices for literary curriculum and instruction and to ensure consistency. That research has resulted in improved methods of teaching elementary students to read effectively, such as greater emphasis on phonics, sounding words out, reading for comprehension and understanding what words mean.

When Vernon-Dotson began her role as dean in 2022, she visited some of the 80-100 schools where AU students are placed for clinical experiences and met with teachers, principals and superintendents. It became clear to her that AU students needed a stronger background in the science of reading.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that every P-12 learner has access to highly effective teachers and a well-sequenced curriculum that meets their learning needs,” Vernon-Dotson explained. “(We’ve been) making sure that our students, the future teachers of these P-12 learners, are prepared and ready to teach on the first day of their teaching profession.”

A taskforce on campus was formed which critically examined the literacy curriculum against the tenets of the science of reading, and ultimately, the curriculum was redesigned. The new curriculum was adopted, approved and implemented starting with the 2024 fall semester, and both full-time faculty and adjunct instructors within the College of Education have received training in the implementation of science of reading.

“To ensure consistency across the science of reading curriculum, all courses have been developed with a shared syllabus, activities, assessments and resources housed in a master shell of our learning management system,” Vernon-Dotson explained to the house committee. “Our assessments are aligned to the 2023 Ohio Reading and Literacy Standards and the 190 Foundations of Reading Ohio Assessments for Educators.”

The bottom line for Vernon-Dotson and AU’s highly-regarded College of Education is that by implementing science of reading standards, its teacher candidates will be better prepared and ready to thrive in their careers.

“You become a really good education program by making sure that the students are prepared to enter the classroom, and then you remain there by continuing to update what you’re doing so that they’re still prepared to be there, and that’s what we needed to do,” said Vernon-Dotson.

Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University ( values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.