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After flood of concerns, Colorado State Board of Education poised to relax deadline for teacher training on reading

A masked child looks at her armful of books she holds inside the Once Upon a Time bookstore in Montrose.
The Colorado State Board of Education has generally held firm on rules related to reading instruction, but seemed willing to compromise on the training deadline.
Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Colorado State Board of Education appears poised to allow early elementary teachers a six-month extension to satisfy a new requirement for training on reading instruction.

During a meeting Wednesday, most board members said they support giving teachers more time to take the training given the pressure they’re under because of the coronavirus pandemic. The board will vote on the matter at a special meeting next week.

Shifting a deadline by several months may seem like a bureaucratic detail, but it gets at a larger debate about whether state leaders and educators are doing enough to help the more-than-50% of Colorado students who struggle to read well. While some board members, parents, and advocates say efforts to improve reading instruction are already years too late, other board members, plus district leaders and educators, say the extra time will ensure teachers can give proper attention to the training rather than just “checking a box.”

If the board formally approves the six-month extension next week, Colorado’s 23,000 kindergarten through third grade teachers will have until January 2022 to satisfy the training mandate. The decision would reverse an earlier position by the board to hold fast to the original summer 2021 deadline, but wouldn’t grant the yearlong extension — to summer 2022 — that many educators and district leaders sought.

The training rule, which came out of a 2019 update of Colorado’s landmark reading law, is meant to cover the fundamentals of reading instruction, something many teachers say they never got in their teacher preparation programs.

To satisfy the requirement, K-3 teachers will have to complete 45 hours of training — about the same as a three-credit college class — or demonstrate the equivalent knowledge. Free classes provided by the state are among the options, and so far 5,600 teachers have enrolled in those, state officials said Wednesday.

Both state education officials and board members mentioned receiving many messages from school superintendents, principals, and teachers in recent months urging them to extend the training deadline.

Board member Deb Scheffel said an extension will give teachers the breathing room they need to take full advantage of the training.

“We want them to be able to do it in a way that they can enjoy doing it, embrace it, and actually make it their own,“ she said. “It really should be a great learning experience for teachers.”

Board member Joyce Rankin was the only one to express major misgivings about granting an extension.

“COVID’s going to go away but … if [students] can’t read by third grade the challenges become unsurmountable,” she said.

Referencing the teachers already signed up for the state’s free training, Rankin said, “These 5,000 teachers are going to be ready to teach in the fall of 2021, so it’s doable.”

Several board members cited problems raised by educators Wednesday, including the state’s slow rollout of training rules and its lack of communication with teachers about the requirement.

Another issue that came up was the fact that teachers won’t truly have until mid-August next year to finish the training as the rule suggests. That’s because the state education department collects data in mid-June about district reading efforts so it can distribute state dollars earmarked for struggling readers soon after. For districts to meet the state’s mid-June data deadline next year and get their allotted funding, they’d have to submit proof their teachers did the training by then. In short, teachers would be shorted two months of potential training time.

Board chair Angelika Schroeder acknowledged that problem Wednesday, saying an extension would give teachers the full summer to complete the training.

“I did not think a full year was a good idea because that’s an easy way to put things off,” she said. “It seems to me that with a six-month extension you really can’t put this off, but you do have the opportunity to have some flexible time that our teachers don’t have right now.”

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