Friday, April 21, 2017

Third Grade Reading Proficiency

It is going to take several weeks and perhaps even months to really understand the impact of this legislative session. As we speak, the General Assembly is in the final stages of debate and it appears they will gavel out in the next couple of days. There is no mistake that some very substantial changes have been enacted into law this session. The long term impact of some of these policies may not be felt for several years. This session was also fraught with budget cuts, two of which occurring this fiscal year following updated revenue estimates, and another that adjusted the anticipated revenue downward for the next fiscal year. Indeed, budget shortfalls and slow revenue growth have been a recurring theme this session. The policies and laws put forth have certainly echoed this theme and trend. We'll spend some time in the following weeks examining a variety of policy which impact schools, but I do want to talk a little bit about a good news/bad news decision that was made this week.

The good news first I guess. The requirement that students who are not proficient readers by the time they complete third grade has been abandoned. This, after the legislature delayed the implementation by a year due to a lack of funding. You'll recall this was part of the landmark education reform legislation passed in 2013 known as House File 215 that also brought us the teacher leadership and compensation system. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of scholarly research suggests that retention in most cases is not an effective way to stem the tide of non-proficient readers Iowa chose to forge ahead, citing the flawed results of other states that had implemented similar measures. The fact this has been shelved is a good move, whatever the reason.

But the other side of that coin (this is the bad news folks) was the abandonment of a plan that would require non-proficient readers to attend a high impact, research driven summer school program. At an estimated price tag of $9 Million for statewide implementation, there just wasn't the funding to see this through. Now to the legislature's credit, they also cited the results of Iowa's pilot study from last summer where selected school districts implemented a summer reading program. The results of this study showed the program did not statistically alter proficiency trends. Yet at the same time we learned much from this study, uncovering problems that most certainly could have been solved.

So what does work? Well, we know that strong instruction using research based strategies has an impact. In other words, effective teaching. In Hudson, I believe that we can check that box due in large part to the effectiveness of our teacher leadership system and the work of our instructional coaches. The fact is, we have an instructional coach whose entire job is to focus her work on literacy. The identification and monitoring of student progress also has an impact. This enables us to target instruction to students based on what type of difficulty has been uncovered. Our FAST system has been able to fit this bill, and our results suggest marked improvement.

The funding for an intensive summer reading program may have fallen by the wayside as well, but here at Hudson we have an answer for that as well. For the last several years we have had the fortunate opportunity to partner with the University of Northern Iowa's Reading center. This partnership has enabled UNI to bring their clinic to Hudson over the summer and work with our students. This intensive instruction is provided by pre-service teachers under the supervision of university professors who are seeking a reading endorsement.

Finally we know that early intervention makes a difference. That is one of the reasons why Hudson has worked so hard this year preparing to launch our statewide voluntary preschool program in time for the 2017-2018 school year!

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