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Missouri legislators can help improve reading instruction

With only 48.7 percent of Missouri students reading on grade level it is clear that we need to do something to improve reading instruction in Missouri. 

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is taking the first steps for a positive change through a new multi-year federal grant intended to expand the use of evidence-based reading instruction, but legislation proposed in recent years could ensure that every student in Missouri has access to reading instruction that is proven to work.

For the past two years, the general assembly has considered, but failed to pass, the Reading Success Bill, which would require additional supports for any student struggling with reading on grade level. 

How the bill would improve reading instruction

The Reading Success Bill is intended to help students, who have a reading deficiency, receive additional “evidence-based” reading interventions “outside” of the general education classroom.  Nearly all public schools receive Federal Title I funds they can use to employ additional teachers who are highly qualified to teach reading.  The federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” requires schools that receive federal funds to use “evidence-based” reading interventions.

The bill would require that a Reading Success Plan be developed by a “highly” qualified teacher of reading who holds a certification from the Center for Effective Reading Instruction or from the Academic Language Therapists Association, along with other pertinent school personnel in consultation with the parents.  The bill also requires students with a reading deficiency to receive “evidence-based” structured literary instruction that has” proven” results for accelerating student reading achievement within the same school year.

The bill requires students with a Reading Success Plan be provided frequent individual and/or small-group intervention with progress being measured and adjusted as needed throughout the school year.  Moreover, a “read at home” plan shall be offered to parents with suggestions for participation in training workshops and/or parent-guided home activities.

If the student is not reading at grade level by the end of fourth grade, after receiving additional “evidence-based” instruction, the school may require the student to attend summer school to receive “intensive” reading instruction as a condition of promotion to the fifth grade.  If the student is still not reading at grade level by the end of sixth grade, the mandatory supports outside of the regular school day shall cease.  However, the school must continue to provide additional support, during the regular school day, until the student is reading at grade level or upon graduation. Under the requirements of the bill, schools can no longer “give up” on helping students with a reading deficiency learn to become a proficient reader.

Why has this bill not passed already?

Ensuring that our students have evidence-based reading instruction and a support system to help students who are struggling with this foundational skill seems like common sense, but the Reading Success Bill has repeatedly failed to pass as a result of efforts by lobbyists for the public school industry including organizations representing school administrators, school boards, and teachers.

These lobbyists testify that it is not necessary to use proven “evidence-based” instruction to help students with a reading deficiency.  They claim the “research-based” reading instruction that schools are currently using is sufficient despite the fact that less than half of Missouri students are reading on grade level year after year. It is obvious that the “unproven” research-based instruction is not working for more than 50% of the students in our public schools who failed to score at the proficient or advanced on the MAP assessment.

The lobbyists falsely claim the Reading Success Bill is “too” prescriptive and would force all schools to “scrap” their curriculum and buy all new textbooks making it “too” costly for schools to provide “proven” evidence-based reading instruction to students who are not reading at grade-level.  

The truth is that under the proposed legislation, schools are not required to “scrap” the curriculum or textbooks they use in the general education classroom, and can continue to use the curriculum and textbooks they are currently using.  The Reading Success Bill simply requires schools to provide “additional” reading instruction “outside” of the general education classroom for those students who are not succeeding at reading at grade level.

Under the proposed legislation:

  • Public schools are not required to scrap the curriculum or textbooks they are currently using in the general education classroom. 
  • Public schools are not required to purchase specific screening or reading assessment materials.  Each school district can use a local or statewide screening assessment.  Public school districts do not have to use the Missouri Achievement Program (MAP) as the “sole” assessment to determine if a student is reading at grade level.  Each school district can use a “locally” approved reading assessment or one they deem to be the most appropriate for their students.
  • Public schools do not have to hire more teachers in order to implement the Reading Success Plan. Schools can use their Title I reading teachers and support staff or they can use other creative ways to help students with a Reading Success Plan.

We cannot leve our children’s reading success to chance

It is of course possible that the new federal grant will lead DESE to set new reading instruction guidelines for schools sometime in the next five years, but as districts have proven time and time again, DESE guidelines are not always followed and the state agency has very few tools (changing a district’s accreditation status) to force districts to follow its recommendations. 

Our students have already been put at a disadvantage as a result of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

That is why it is so important that the state legislature take this issue up and ensure that all Missouri are children are successful at the most fundamental learning skill of reading effectively. 

Bills like the Reading Success Bill are intended to help students who are not reading at grade-level. These students must receive “additional” reading instruction “outside” of the general education classroom, if they are to have any hope of “catching up” at some point in the future to help them become proficient readers. 

Without some form of action from the Missouri General Assembly, there is nothing in place to force every Missouri public school to use scientifically proven methods to make sure our children can read.

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