The human brain is hard-wired for spoken language, but we are not born with the natural ability to read.
The skills that lead students to become competent, lifelong readers must be explicitly and systematically taught at a young age with ample opportunity for practice and improvement.
Nearly half of Pennsylvania’s fourth-grade students are reading below grade level. Right now in America, 1 in 5 adults struggle to read basic sentences.
Many factors play into this outcome. As policymakers, the one we can most quickly and easily address is ensuring students get the reading support they need in those early years.
Research has consistently shown that early literacy is critical to academic success and long-term achievement. A strong, evidence-based reading program, beginning in kindergarten and continuing into the third grade and beyond, gives students the best possible chance to maximize their education.
As part of last year’s budget, we helped create a program for schools focused on professional development and applied practice in structured literacy. That program included in-class demonstrations, modeling and coaching support for educators to improve reading and early literacy outcomes. It was an incredible start, and we have the chance this year to continue that momentum with House Bill 998, bipartisan legislation to ensure that our teachers are using tested, effective methods to instruct young readers and have data to know which students need additional support.
Our bill takes a three-pronged approach: evidence-based reading curriculum; universal screenings within the first 30 days of school to identify struggling readers; and intervention plans designed and implemented using the screening data to prevent children from falling behind.
When states take this comprehensive approach, positive outcomes for students rise.
In 2002, Florida was the first state to pass a comprehensive early literacy policy that continues to generate positive results today; the state ranks third in the nation in fourth-grade reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation’s report card. Mississippi’s Literacy-Based Promotion Act, passed in 2013, helped the state rise from 49th on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) fourth grade reading to 21st in the nation on the 2022 assessment.
After two years of statewide teacher training in research-backed methods of teaching reading, the percentage of North Carolina students on track in grades K-3 during this year’s mid-school year assessment was both higher than results from the beginning of the school year and higher than results in other states or districts using the same assessment. Finally, a National Bureau of Economic Research report released last month looks at pandemic recovery on state testing data. The study found that the two states in the sample with the earliest adoption of high-quality, reading legislation – Mississippi in 2013 and South Carolina in 2014 – were the only two states to fully recover their pandemic learning losses by 2022.
Those are the kind of results Pennsylvania families deserve, and we can’t afford to wait. Researchers have spent decades determining which approaches work best to teach reading, but if our teachers don’t have the resources needed to educate our kids, outcomes are unlikely to improve.
The pandemic brought uncertainty and turmoil to our lives, and our kids need us now more than ever. Literacy is a great equalizer. Whether a person can read is a critical predictor of educational and lifelong success. We cannot afford to have almost half of our students falling short of that goal.
By providing support for early literacy development, House Bill 998 has the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of Pennsylvania children and ensure that they are able to reach their full potential.
By investing in education, we are investing in the future of our state and providing all students an opportunity for a lifetime of success.
Rep. Jason Ortitay is a Republican representing Washington/Allegheny counties. Rep. Justin Fleming is a Democrat representing Dauphin County.
Early literacy..... um... I think we call that school don't we. And we already have those in place. The biggest issue qe have with illiteracy is parents who don't seem to care if their children are learning. They don't work with them to be sure they get their work done. You can't just send a kid to school and expect that kid will actually learn what is presented, you as a parent must be sure they are learning. You must make them learn; hold them responsible for learning. And hold them back when they fail.
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