Monday, June 10, 2013

Testimony: Student Educational Outcomes, SB 5946

Note: This is WSPTA testimony given to the Senate Ways and Means committee on June 10, 2013. This bill is up for consideration by the full Senate. It touches on reading, evidence-based learning supports, teacher mentoring, and professional development. WSPTA spoke primarily to the reading section of the bill.
To: Ways and Means Committee
Re: SB 5946, Student educational outcomes. WSPTA is PRO, with suggestions

Dear Senator Hill and committee members,

Washington State PTA supports Senate Bill 5946, a bill you will hear and possibly take action on this afternoon. It speaks to policy reforms our association is engaged on. Yours is a fiscal committee, and I have suggestions that would make the bill more effective and keep long-term K-12 costs in check.


1. Please specify use of “formative and summative annual assessments.” You need both to gauge growth and you can’t have accountability without the growth data points (Section 102). This complements ongoing work with the new evaluation system.

2. Please include language around phonological awareness and phonemic ability. A reading bill that does not speak to the primary cause of reading struggles will not result in the K-12 savings you would like to see. 

Rationale for reading suggestions: Most children who struggle to read have difficulty with phonological awareness and phonemic ability – that is an ability to recognize and manipulate sound. When you catch these children early on and teach them how to decode, they learn to read. For most students, this can happen in the general education classroom.

Breakdowns in reading instruction occur when these children are not screened, or if screened and identified, are not given appropriate or effective instruction. Unfortunately, as a system we fail to help these children in a consistent manner. Their reading instruction is left to chance, and often private resources.

As long as the state dances around this issue of ineffective reading instruction, nothing will change. This is not a poverty issue – though kids in poverty lack the resources to work around or supplement ineffective instruction in phonological awareness and phonemics. This is not a preschool school issue – though kids who are caught and helped appropriately early have an easier time decoding in the K-1 years.

This is about effective, appropriate instruction. One improvement to SB 5946 would be to change assessment language in the bill to require annual formative and summative screening. You need this growth data anyway for the evaluation system.

Another improvement would be to reference the importance of phonological and phonemic awareness in legislation so we can put to rest arguments that kids aren’t reading because they are poor. We need to finally address the fact that about one on five of all students (not just poor kids) struggle with dyslexia or a similar reading disorder and that they will likely struggle mightily in school without intervention. To a certain extent, this bill continues to treat reading and other instructional issues as issues of poverty, and this masks the real learning needs of students.

So, yes – absolutely give extra help to those communities least capable of providing out-of-school supports. But no on continued vagueness around the specific instructional needs of kids learning to read. Kids won’t read (or later, write) without phonological awareness and phonemic capability, and your investments won’t pay off as they should.


Emphasizing positive behavior supports cuts suspension and expulsions rates and improves learning. Going forward, we strongly encourage the state to put resources into training in PBIS so positive school climates can be established and maintained, and all kids can learn. The “discipline” methods being used are ineffective because too often they don’t address the underlying behavior needs. Educators need tools.


In general, Washington State PTA supports accountability for reading instruction (though members expressed concern about forced retention); emphasis on evidence-based practices; mentoring support for new educators; and ongoing professional development for all educators. We remain strongly concerned about underfunding of basic education and do not see this bill as a substitute for funding the program of basic education, as defined in 2009’s ESHB 2261. (In particular, we are concerned about the lack of funding in middle and high school so that we can implement career- and college-aligned graduation requirements.) We do see this bill as promising accompanying policy.


Ramona Hattendorf
Government relations coordinator
Washington State PTA

FYI: For more information on phonological awareness and definition of terms: (it’s somewhat layman friendly and is well-sourced)

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