Members of the State Board of Education last week took their first detailed look at the proposed new system intended to improve the literacy levels of the state’s youngest students.

Child readingThe draft regulations reviewed by the board Jan. 10 outline an implementation plan for the 2012 READ Act, a law that sets an expectation for all students to be reading at grade level by third grade.

A key element of the regulations is the definition of “significant reading deficiency.” Schools will be required to provide special, individualized services for students with that designation. And students who are still deficient in the third grade could be held back.

The current draft of the rules proposes a three-part process to determine significant reading deficiency, but a coalition of education reform and business groups is urging a simpler method.

Ed groups question process for identifying struggling readers

The three proposed criteria include: a child scoring twice in the lowest quartile on state-approved assessments, identification of a significant deficiency in one or more components of reading as determined by a diagnostic assessment; and a “body of evidence” showing a child is not making sufficient reading progress.

A coalition of education-reform groups is questioning the three-part process. The groups are Colorado Succeeds, Stand for Children Colorado, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Concern. All were in the forefront of lobbying to pass the READ Act, House Bill 12-1238, last year.

“This three-step approach creates a threshold that is unnecessarily high, unclear, and leads to a precarious loss of time. The intent of the Colorado READ Act was for struggling readers to be identified early so that they will receive immediate reading interventions and support,” representatives of the groups wrote to CDE last week.

“We urge the State Board to adopt a less stringent and more straightforward threshold for determining if a student has a significant reading deficiency,” the groups wrote, suggesting that scoring in the bottom quartile of any approved assessment should be sufficient grounds for identifying a child with a significant reading deficiency.

Department of Education staff appeared open to making tweaks.

“The department is considering that suggestion. … We will address that during the next board meeting,” Dian Prestwich, CDE assistant director of literacy told the board.

Significant reading deficiency is a specific individual determination and would not include all children who are merely reading below grade level.

The Department of Education is proposing use of the current DIBELS, PALS and DRA2 assessments for this school year and next. It’s expected other tests will be added to the approved list in the future.

The proposed regulations also define reading competency skill levels in detail for kindergarteners and for students in grades 1-3. (See pages 4-10 of the draft rules) and lay out specific amounts of instruction for struggling readers, time frames for administering tests at the beginning of school years and detailed descriptions of what constitutes appropriate instruction and on what data districts will have to report to the state.

There was no testimony at the Jan. 10 session. The board will hold another hearing during its Feb. 13-14 meeting and is set to vote on the final rules during the March 20-21 meeting.

READ Act details

At the end of this school year districts will report to the Department of Education the number of K-3 students with significant reading deficiencies.

The law is expected to cover up to 24,000 students. An estimated quarter of Colorado third-graders don’t read at grade level.

Starting in 2013-14 districts will annually assess K-3 students’ reading abilities with the CDE-approved tests. The department is required to create a list of approved instructional programs and professional development resources that districts can use.

Individual READ plans have to be created for students with significant deficiencies. The law also creates a process for parent, teacher and administrator consultation to determine each year if students should advance to the next grade level. Parents have the final say for K-2 students. Superintendents (or designated administrators) will review the cases of third-graders recommended for advancement and can decide to retain a student. Special services must be provided for third-graders who are held back.

The law contains protections and exemptions for students with disabilities, limited English proficiency or who have already been held back.

The program will divert interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund to provide about $16 million in per-pupil funding (about $700 per student) to districts working with students who have significant reading deficiencies. The law also includes some $5 million in funding to be used for CDE administration costs ($1 million) and for professional development grants to districts. So total funding first-year will be about $21 million.

Districts receiving the per-pupil funding will be required to use specific interventions, such as enrollment in full-day kindergarten, summer school or tutoring.