Rankin: It’s time to redo Colorado’s READ Act
In 2012 the Colorado legislature passed the “Reading to Ensure Academic Development” Act (HB12-1238) which became known as the READ Act. Key features of the act involved teaching Foundational Reading Skills or the Science of Teaching Reading including phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency and reading comprehension.
Teachers need to know and practice how to provide explicit, systematic instruction in all five of these essential components of early reading instruction. They are intentional and very specific, depending on an initial assessment of each child. It’s well recognized that each child learns at his own pace but knowing where to begin and how to progress is the key. Unfortunately, many teachers haven’t learned foundational reading skills or the Science of Teaching Reading in their teacher preparation programs.
The progression of this teaching technique for every child in kindergarten through third grade has been proven to bring many students up to grade level successfully. While much emphasis is placed on students reading below or far below grade level, the scientific approach will develop those reading at or above grade level into more advanced readers. Every child should be exhibiting reading growth no matter where he/she begins in initial assessments.
The READ Act of 2012 laid the foundation for what was needed to advance K-3 students to read at grade level. After $230 million and seven years, only 40% of our third graders are proficient based on third-grade reading scores.
The new READ Act (SB 19-199) which is traveling through the legislature right now still supports the foundational skills and the Science of Teaching Reading. The main difference is that the new bill adds accountability. After additional professional development, all K-3 teachers will be able to implement their new reading skills. There will be individual student monitoring, parent involvement, accountability for the taxpayer dollars invested in the program, and an outside evaluator to assess how the program is working.
Superintendent Dave Ulrich from Moffat County School District came to Colorado two years ago and worked with principals and teachers and quickly identified that there was not a uniform, evidence-based approach to reading in the district’s elementary schools. He understood the urgency and importance of getting teachers trained and improving the numbers of students proficient in reading by the end of third grade. He called the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and asked for help.
Tracy Handy, a CDE Senior Literacy Specialist visited the school district and worked with teachers to develop a plan. Over the semester, Tracy conducted seven reading trainings with all elementary teachers. Moffat County School District then took a representative group of those teachers to use their new learning skills and identified an evidence-based resource for grades K-5. During that process, MCSD applied for and received a three-year early literacy grant which includes on-going, job-embedded professional development in reading for all elementary teachers.
I checked his test scores to verify what he was telling me. In 2017 the third graders in MCSD had a reading proficiency score of 26.8 percent. That means only 26.8 percent of third graders were reading at grade level, which is well below the state average of 40 percent. The test scores in 2018 of these same students, now in fourth grade, is 50 percent, well above the state average.
Congratulations to MCSD and the hard work of the teachers and students.
Let’s all keep an eye on Senate Bill 199.
Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District. She writes the monthly column Across the Street to share with constituents in the 29 counties she represents. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol.