Improved third-grade reading goal of Senate-passed bill

Measure puts emphasis on individual instruction plans, teacher training

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Kentucky state Senate concluded the 11th day of the 2022 legislative session Wednesday, passing legislation to improve reading

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Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, presents Senate Bill 9, a bill regarding early literacy education, in the Senate Education Committee/LRC

outcomes for students.

Senate Bill 9 (SB 9), sponsored by Sen. Stephen West (R-Paris), also known as the Read to Succeed Act, would systematically improve the quality and delivery of reading instruction to students by implementing supports and interventions across the state for grades K-3.

SB 9 sets the goal for each student to be reading at or above grade level by the end of the third grade, which would be accomplished by setting achievable standards and providing greater professional development to teachers. The objective of the bill is to streamline reading instruction and set a foundation so every child in the district is on the same playing field and receiving the same reading instruction.

“The passage of SB 9 in the Senate moves us one step closer to improving reading education for Kentucky students,” West said. “We understand how important reading is and how it opens doors. I am encouraging support of this bill in the state House. Move the Read to Succeed Act onto the Governor’s desk so we can bring more professional development to our teachers, and deliver students the quality reading education they deserve.”

If enacted, beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, any student in grades K-3 identified as needing accelerated progress toward proficient performance in reading would be provided with intensive intervention and possible enrichment for increasing a student’s rate of progress toward proficient performance in reading. Schools may use Title I, Title III, and IDEA funds to support struggling students, depending on eligibility. Schools also may use Title II funds to provide professional development for teachers outside of the state-provided professional learning and coaching supports.

The Read to Succeed Act follows in the footsteps of legislation passed in Mississippi which overhauled reading instruction and propelled the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing scores to some of the highest nationally. SB 9 would provide a strong foundation in literacy to all students across the state, making intervention for those struggling easier to target and increasing the ability to access more students in need at a reduced cost.

One of the key methods of identifying struggling readers is through universal statewide literacy screening, in which each student is given a personalized reading plan at its conclusion. This bill also sets a plan for professional training and certification in teaching phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, a long-term study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who were not proficient in reading by the end of third grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. When students can read proficiently, it is a skill they use to excel in other areas of study.

“The positive impact of reading is unquestionable,” West continued. “Our goal of improving educational outcomes in Kentucky is tethered to our success of equipping students with the ability to read proficiently.”

The legislation amends the existing Read to Achieve Act from 2005.

“I’ll be the first to admit this bill is aspirational,” said West. “Our goal is to have every kid know how to read by third grade. Can we do that – I don’t know. But we need to try. This is aspirational public policy.”

Also sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, and Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, the measure passed on the Senate floor with a 27-7 vote. It now heads to the House.

SB 9 includes specifications and requirements for the Kentucky Department of Education and local school districts.

A provision in the bill would establish the Read to Succeed Fund. If money is appropriated for the fund, it could be used to train educators on strategies to improve K-3 reading skills and provide statewide professional learning academies in reading. It could also be used to create a literacy training program.

In addition, SB 9 would clarify the intent for all elementary schools. Instruction would be provided by “qualified individuals” and evidence-based reading instruction would emphasize phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The measure also calls for more collaboration with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, Kentucky Educational Television and the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.

The Kentucky Department of Education estimates that implementing the bill’s requirements would cost between $15 million to $20 million in fiscal year 2024. But education officials anticipate federal pandemic relief funds could help cover the cost.

The Kentucky Read to Achieve Program was created in 2005 to support schools in implementing a reading diagnostic and intervention program for struggling readers.

In a speech on the Senate floor, West said the new bill would not do away with Read to Achieve.

But some lawmakers said they are unsure.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said Read to Achieve has had excellent results. He expressed concern that Read to Succeed’s larger grant might move out Read to Achieve.

“My biggest fear with Senate Bill 9 is by trying to do it in a classroom setting, you have 15 or 20 illiterate students and one teacher trying to teach that student how to read,” he said. “You’re going to have some students fall through the cracks, and you’re certainly not going to get that 99 percent success rate.”

Likewise, Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said Read to Achieve has been in her district since approximately 2005. It exists in high performing schools as well as those that are not performing as well, and Webb said she wants to be better convinced that the existing program will not be compromised.

“Hopefully, I can get more information on this and reconcile it better in my mind and maybe the House would consider stronger language to perhaps preserve that,” she said.

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