Policymakers and State Education Agencies

Policymakers and State Education Agencies

Introduction

Legislation is a necessary catalyst for change in our schools. Policies designed to promote awareness, understanding, and the use of practices aligned with the science of reading have the potential to improve student literacy and life outcomes. In states with local control, the potential for legislation to leverage, incentivize, and inspire change that will result in such improved outcomes is even greater

Policymakers and state education agents must keep in mind that the term “science of reading” has become so popular and widespread that it is often misused and oversimplified. The risk that it may be misunderstood to the point where legislation designed to improve student literacy ends up failing is real. For the proof that is within the findings from the science of reading to translate to new promises in practice, an understanding of what the science of reading really is is critical. Leaders in policy and state education must ensure that decisions related to legislation, funding, policies, guidance, and implementation are properly aligned with the science of reading.

Not sure where to begin?

The resources below point you in the right direction.

Which states have passed ‘Science of Reading’ laws? What’s in these laws?

The Perfect Storm: Mississippi’s Momentum for Improving Reading Achievement

Comprehensive Policy Solutions

Interactive State Map

Use the interactive state map to find descriptions of state-level policy adoption, guidance, and practices related to the science of reading. State policy may include legislation incorporating training or practices related to the science of reading or state education agency guidance regarding policy, professional development, curricula, instruction, or assessment.

Filter by specific topic area(s) to find state-specific work: 

The Reading League expresses gratitude to our collaborators and associates within the state education agencies for sharing their state-specific data. This data will undergo semi-annual updates, contingent upon the availability and resources of the respective state agencies. For any inquiries, clarifications, or updates, please reach out to compass@thereadingleague.org.

Develop Knowledgeable Teams for Policy Development and Implementation

Legislation is introduced in numerous ways. Sometimes it is introduced without the expertise of reading scientists and/or without the guidance of educators and school leaders who will be affected by the legislation. When this happens, legislative policy can be weak and difficult to implement.

When designing legislation, consider assembling teams of experts that include people with knowledge and experience with the science of reading to ensure the purpose of the legislation is clearly articulated in the language. To avoid delays in legislation, convene roundtable discussions with key stakeholders in your state. Include representatives from organizations that support students of color, students who are English learners/emergent bilinguals, and students with diverse learning needs, such as dyslexia or other language-based learning differences.

Ensure That Policy and Guidance Addresses All Aspects and Tiers of Instruction

In recent years, several states have passed and adopted policies that focus narrowly on one or two aspects of instruction. For example, several states have adopted legislation that bans instruction featuring cueing to identify unknown words. It is definitely important to address aspects of instruction that interfere with skilled reading, but an “a la carte” approach to legislation will not result in improved literacy outcomes.

When writing legislation, be sure to address the following:

  • teacher and leader professional development and knowledge building
  • instructional materials for tier one (whole class instruction as well as interventions)
  • assessment
  • educator and administrator preparation content, licensing exams that align to the science of reading, and pre-service teacher placements in classrooms that use evidence-aligned instruction
  • educator coaching and funding
  • systems to support and sustain this work

It is also recommended to bring together divisions within a department of education to determine how policy related to the science of reading relates to other initiatives (e.g., supporting English learners/emergent bilinguals, social-emotional learning, content area instruction, secondary learning, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, supporting students with disabilities). The more these initiatives are streamlined, the more likely educators who will be responsible for implementing the policy will be able to avoid initiative overload.

Additionally, it is critical to consider the needs of educators across tiers of instruction so that all students receive consistent instruction in both their Tier 1 classroom settings and their intervention settings. If reading specialists and interventionists instruct students who have reading difficulties using evidence-aligned instruction, yet the instruction in Tier I classroom settings feature non-aligned practices, consider how the conflicting instruction might impact student achievement. Consideration must also be given to including policy on supporting multilingual learners, students with English language variations, and students with language-based learning differences.

Funding

States can experience great frustration  when legislative mandates are not sufficiently funded. When funding is included at the outset by developing a comprehensive plan that allocates appropriate monies for teacher training stipends, robust coaching structures, and resources to support change, long-term impact that can reach many generations is possible.

ExcelinEd

ExcelinEd has developed a page featuring an Early Literacy Policy Map that details which states have adopted specific early literacy principles related to instruction, intervention, instructional materials, training, parental engagement and support, and higher education. This page also includes best practices for implementing training, coaching systems, educator preparation alignment, and funding.

The Path Forward

The Path Forward utilizes a cohort model to support states in their efforts to transform teacher preparation and teacher licensure programs to include the science of reading. Through virtual meetings and targeted coaching support, state teams establish an understanding of their current state context and work towards the development of a comprehensive action plan to embed the science of reading in teacher preparation. A national advisory group, a cadre of experts in reading, policy, and teacher preparation, serve as partners in the work by presenting to teams at meetings, providing resources, and offering feedback on state action plans. The Hunt Institute staff and coaches provide monthly coaching to support the teams in processing the information from the virtual meetings and engaging in state action planning.

Shanker Institute

The Shanker Institute’s report Reading Reform Across America: A Survey of State Legislation takes an in-depth look at recent policy related to the science of reading.  According to the Shanker Institute’s website, the report uncovered several key findings related to legislation being passed in the United States:

  • Bills pay attention to the five pillars of reading, not just phonics. In most states (34), laws reference the pillars identified by the National Reading Panel report, namely phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.
  • Laws are targeting more students than previous legislation. Forty-two states passed laws covering students from kindergarten to beyond 3rd grade, with 31 of these also including pre-K, and 37 including charter schools. Only 12 states enacted laws exclusively targeting Title I schools.
  • Legislation is bipartisan and state driven. Comprehensive reading laws have been enacted in both traditionally conservative and traditionally progressive states. This report features exemplary legislation from states across the political spectrum.
  • Focus on evidence. A commitment to evidence-based practices and materials underpins the legislation, with all but four states explicitly articulating this objective.
  • Pre-service preparation and professional development. Building knowledge in the science of reading for both inservice and preservice educators is a priority focus for legislation..
  • Family involvement in literacy. The active engagement of family members in supporting and enhancing a child’s reading skills and habits at home and in collaboration with schools is significantly addressed in the laws of 38 states, with 21 giving it thorough consideration.

NCIL

The National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL), operated by Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development with funding from the United States Department of Education, is a partnership among literacy experts, university researchers, and technical assistance providers from the University of Oregon, Florida State University, and RMC Research Corporation. The National Center on Improving Literacy translates research, develops products, and disseminates evidence-based practices to a variety of pK-12 stakeholders, including parents and families, schools and districts, and state education agencies.

NCIL’s Mission is:

  • To increase access to and use of evidence-based approaches to screen, identify, and teach students with literacy-related disabilities, including dyslexia.
  • To build individual and organizational capacity to assess students’ literacy-related skills, identify students with disabilities or those at risk of disabilities, and fully implement evidence-based literacy programs and professional development.

NCIL provides resources for state education agencies as well as targeted technical assistance for local and state education agencies.

NCIL has also developed a helpful interactive map called the State of Dyslexia Interactive Map

Resources

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