The state of Colorado spent $230 million between 2012 and 2018 to increase literacy among young students, and yet test scores among third graders statewide remained almost unchanged in recent years.
A revised Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act was passed earlier this year to help ensure greater literacy among young students and change the statewide trend, Joyce Rankin, a Colorado State Board of Education member, told a small crowd Wednesday at Needham Elementary School.
The new law will ensure schools granted money to improve literacy are held more accountable and require schools that receive grant money to provide teachers with evidenced-based training on how to teach reading to kindergarten through third grade students, among other changes, she said.
The initial law aimed at boosting literacy in 2012 dictated that schools should be focused on the scientifically proven foundations of reading, which are phonics, comprehension, vocabulary development, fluency and the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the sounds in words.
Durango School District 9-R receives about $140,000 each year through the 2012 law. The money funds reading specialists who can help those with significant reading deficiencies. The district expects to apply for funding next year, as well, said Superintendent Dan Snowberger. The district also provides specialized training in reading foundations each year, he said.
Across Colorado, schools were not held accountable to teaching the basics of literacy with the 2012 grant money, Rankin said.
For example, some schools held summer schools with the money but did not focus on reading, she said.
Statewide test scores showed problems with the lack of accountability, Rankin said. In 2017, 40% of Colorado third graders were reading at or above grade level and in 2018 40.4% were reading at grade level, despite all the grant money that was spent.
“That’s a waste of taxpayer money,” she said.
The new law aims to ensure schools can bolster scores by requiring them to have plans that involve teachers in consistent reading instruction across grade levels, ensuring teachers are spending a sufficient amount of time on reading and encouraging schools to partner with libraries on literacy. The state law also allows the Colorado Department of Education to monitor and audit the use of grant funds and requires schools to report interim test scores for students who are receiving grant-funded instruction, according to the bill.
The emphasis on reading is key to ensure student success later in school, Rankin said.
“You learn to read by third grade and after that you read to learn,” she said.