CO Underscores Evidence-Based Instruction, Accountability in Reading Policy


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This guest post comes from Katy Anthes, Colorado Commissioner of Education and Executive Committee member at Education Commission of the States. This post is adapted from commentary published in The Denver Post. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

Captain Underpants and Ramona the Pest can teach kids a lot about imagination, heroism and how to create trouble without even trying.

These adorable characters come alive in chapter books that every student in Colorado should be able to enjoy by the end of third grade. Study after study shows those children who can’t read at grade level by then will encounter challenges greater than Captain Underpants and Ramona ever faced.

After third grade, the focus in Colorado classrooms shifts from learning to read to using reading skills to learn. Students discover the wonders of science, lessons from history and all other subject areas, including those story problems that, albeit vexing, bring relevance to math.

Students who cannot read by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Teens who drop out of high school have a greater likelihood of going to jail, being unemployed or having to rely on food stamps, according to a Northeastern University study.

In 2012, Colorado policymakers made reading by third grade a top priority with the passage of the Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act, known as the READ Act. The law requires districts to test reading abilities of kindergarten through third graders, identify those with significant reading deficiencies and develop individualized reading plans for those who struggle the most.

Colorado saw some improvements after six years of implementation, but unfortunately there was only a 2 percentage point increase in third graders who met or exceeded expectations on the state assessment for reading and writing. In addition, students identified with the most serious reading challenges were not making enough progress to reach grade-level proficiency.

Though outcomes weren’t what Colorado leaders had hoped, they learned a lot during the first six years of the READ Act. They learned that more teacher training in evidence-based reading instruction is needed to raise student achievement. Some of the state’s greatest teachers hadn’t received the latest training in scientifically based methods for teaching reading, and Colorado decided it needed to support their learning in this area.

During this year’s legislative session, a bill to improve the READ Act passed, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the state board of education, Democrats and Republicans in the general assembly, and the governor’s office.

The bipartisan bill refocused the law to ensure kindergarten through third grade teachers have the scientifically based training they need to effectively teach reading. It also asks school districts to keep an account of how they test and teach reading, and it requires students with the most significant reading deficiencies to receive extra reading instruction throughout the day. Moreover, the legislation requires the state to hire an independent evaluator to analyze how schools spend READ Act money and whether students with the most significant delays are making progress.

Reading opens myriad possibilities for all children and brings hope and opportunity to students of all income levels and backgrounds. As educators endeavor to increase achievement for every student, especially historically underserved students — students of color, English learners, foster youth, students with disabilities and other groups — I know in my heart that it all starts with reading.

As adults, we have but one mission in life and that is to provide a better future for our children. I can think of no better way to accomplish that goal than to give students the gift of reading. Colorado leaders have put the pieces in place to do just that. We will teach our children how to read, we will hold ourselves accountable and we will give them a future filled with possibilities.

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