Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Testimony - 3rd grade retention, reading (to House)

To: House Education Committee
CONCERNS, HB 1452 - Establishing Accountability for Student Performance in Third Grade;
(Written testimony submitted due to time constraints of the public hearing)

Dear Chairwoman Santos and committee members,
For many children, reading does not come easily. About five percent of children learn to read effortlessly. Another 20 to 30 percent learn to read with relative ease when exposed to any kind of instruction.

But for about 60 percent of students, learning to read is more challenging, and their success is tied directly to the efficacy of instruction. Within this group, 20-30 percent will find reading to be remarkably difficult, and how these children are taught to read is critical to their success. [i]
These are the students Rep. Dahlquist spoke of in Tuesday’s hearing on HB 1452. I know several of these kids. They are friends and neighbors. They aren’t defined by income, or access to early learning; their brains are simply wired differently.

Studies suggest that the common trait of children with reading disorders (dyslexia, or those who find reading “remarkably difficult”) is a primary weakness in phonological and phonemic awareness.[ii] Unless these students are identified early and taught using an evidence-based curriculum that emphasizes phonological awareness and phonics instruction, they can be expected to learn poorly throughout middle and high school grades. [iii]

The great news is we can help them. The quandary is that even though we can look to science for answers, and even though effective and appropriate methods have been identified and are available, they are not universally used in classrooms.

This is the problem Rep. Dahlquist spoke to on Tuesday: What can we do to ensure these kids get help? How can we ensure effective instruction and supports aren’t left to chance?

At Tuesday’s hearing, I signed in opposition to HB 1452. There are specific steps Washington State PTA wants the state to take around literacy and they are not addressed in this bill. The bill also fails to mention supports and expectations for special education students. But our association agrees that steps need to be taken. We can’t keep letting struggling readers – including special education students -- drift along.

In our view, the problem is much more profound than students slipping through the cracks, and the solution needs to start well before students reach third or fourth grade.
WHAT WE PROPOSE:  Follow the evidence.
Not all students are being screened appropriately for phonological awareness; and even when they are being screened, staff does not always know what to do with the data, and does not always choose appropriate instructional materials. This extends to principals who may or may not have had any exposure to early learning prior to their school assignment.

Washington State PTA proposes building on the literacy screening component of WaKIDS to ensure all struggling readers are identified early and taught using an evidence-based curriculum that emphasizes phonological awareness and phonemic instruction.

We would like to see:
  • Phonological screenings – To be administered twice a year in kindergarten to grade 3. 
  • Better assessment of teacher applicants -- Expand the section of the Professional Educator Standard Board examination that addresses specified facets of reading development and reading instruction. Such examination needs to be founded on evidence-based literacy instruction – that is, direct, explicit, multi-sensory, and systematic literacy instruction that includes phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, spelling, and writing.
  • Data to guide instruction - Develop the capacity of educators to use data to guide instruction, and support ongoing work to make sure student growth data is used responsibly to assist all learners.

Unless and until all of our K-3 staff is well-versed in the science of reading – and can demonstrate expertise -- nothing will really change for these children. I urge you to consider and incorporate our approach into any bill that moves forward.

Please keep in mind that even if we conquer poverty and expand preschool, we will have struggling readers. But children with dyslexia, English language learners, and children from language-poor environments can learn to read using an evidence-based curriculum. If students are screened early and all students given appropriate instruction from day one, we can reduce the need for expensive intervention or pull-out services later.

The screenings can take minutes, and OSPI already has a model reading program. We can help these students, but it will take deliberate action and support.
 Some resources for you:
Screening and Instruction of Struggling Readers:  A WSPTA legislative priority

 Ramona Hattendorf
Government Relations Coordinator
Washington State PTA

[i] Source: Dr. G. Reid Lyon, former Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes for Health

[ii] Source: Henry, Dr. Marcia K., Unlocking Literacy Decoding and Spelling Instruction (Brookes Co., New York), 2003, p.11
[iii] Source: Lyon, Reid, “The Future of Children with learning Disabilities”, Special Education for Students with Disabilities vol. 6 n. 1, spring 1996, pp 54-76

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