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Throughout this series, we will highlight literacy policies and trends in each US state (not including the District of Columbia). Instead of listing the states alphabetically or by region, they will be listed by their average 4th grade reading scores, as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The states will appear in order from the worst score to the best, using the 2019 Nation’s Report Card.

In the first installment of our literacy policy breakdown, we will cover the states that ranked 50 through 41.

NOTE:

For comparison, each state’s 2017 rank is listed in parentheses.

50. Alaska (2017: 50th)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening? No.

Alaska is desperately searching for solutions to their education and literacy issues. The state ranks last in a majority of the national assessments. However, interestingly enough, Alaska is among the top states in the nation for per-student spending.

In an attempt to fix this, Alaska created the Reading Proficiency and Dyslexia Task Force in 2018. The task force is responsible for examining the effects of current statutes on literacy, as well as research practices in other states. While it is a step in the right direction, the bill did not have any requirements for teacher training or student screening.

Among other research, the task force needs to identify evidence-based, multi-sensory, direct, explicit, structured, and sequential approaches to instructing students affected by dyslexia.

49. New Mexico (2017: 49th)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

New Mexico has implemented a handful of early education and literacy laws in 2019. In early April, the Senate enacted a law that requires all first-grade students to be screened for dyslexia beginning in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

The bill requires schools to provide classroom interventions or referral programs for those who are demonstrating characteristics of dyslexia. Schools are also required to provide evidence-based interventions.

In addition, New Mexico created the Early Childhood Education and Care Department as a cabinet-level department. The department must prepare and update a four-year early childhood education and care programs, as well as recommendations for education financing.

48. Louisiana (2017: 48th)

3rd Grade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

Louisiana has made a large push towards early literacy education in 2019. The state created the Early Literacy Commission to “study and make recommendations to develop and implement an aligned system to provide effective evidence-based reading instruction for children from birth through third grade.”

While the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Act was enacted in 2012 and has received national recognition from national organizations, the state’s reading levels weren’t showing the expected improvements.

The new commission will focus on the five systematic components of evidence-based instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Starting on September 9th, the ELC will meet once a month to conduct an assessment of Louisiana’s education policies. In January 2020, the group will make its final recommendations to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Legislature.

47. Alabama (2017: 39th)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

Earlier this year, Alabama passed the Alabama Literacy Act which is aimed at improving pre-K to 3rdgrade reading proficiency. The main points of emphasis on the bill were improving funding and resources for literacy programs, stronger professional development, and early identification for students with dyslexia.

Specifically, Alabama is investing resources into the science of reading, including multi-sensory strategies. Below is a list of literacy elements that schools and teachers must focus on:

 

Also, an elementary teaching certification now requires no less than nine credit hours of literacy coursework based on the science of reading and multi-sensory strategies. In 2015, Alabama put in legislation that stated training preferred providers must be accredited by the International Dyslexia Association.

Lastly, the state appropriated $303,080 to pilot projects that address the needs of students with dyslexia. The same bill appropriated $1,000,000 for professional development programs to improve literacy, numeracy, and career and technical education.

46. West Virginia (2017: 37th)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

West Virginia passed the Student Success Act in 2019 which puts a focus on digital literacy and professional development. Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, the state board will implement the Mountain State Digital Literacy Project.

Because it is a pilot project, the state board will determine the number of schools eligible to participate. The extensive curriculum will feature digital literacy, online assessment preparation, and internet safety.

For professional development, the bill states that all professional development should be individualized at the school level based on the needs of the students and employees. It states that before July 1, 2020, every teacher in the state must receive professional development on addressing the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students.

West Virginia also continues to work on the West Virginia Leaders of Literacy: Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The campaign works with all 55 counties to close the literacy gap by the end of third grade.

It focuses on four components to help improve literacy rates:

 

The instruction involves immersion in a literacy-rich environment to develop awareness and understanding of reading and writing.

45. Arkansas (2017: 41st)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

Arkansas currently abides by the Right to Read Act which addresses the science of reading for current educators. Specifically, by the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, each department school must identify an approved curriculum including:

 

In addition to the new curriculum standards, districts must also ensure that educators are receiving the necessary professional development, resources, and materials to have success in the classroom. Specifically, teachers must receive professional development in scientific reading instruction. 

While that bill was rightfully dismissed, California did introduce a new law intended to promote the teaching and learning of media literacy in school. It aims to teach students to apply critical thinking to media messages.

44. Arizona (2017: 42nd)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

In an attempt to combat its literacy issues, Arizona introduced its Move on When Reading policy. The bill was designed to provide K-3 students with evidence-based, effective reading instruction. The three main aspects of this bill are:

  1. A student should not be promoted from the third grade if the student scores far below the third-grade level based on Arizona’s statewide assessment. There are certain exceptions for English Language Learners (ELLs) or students with a reading impairment such as dyslexia.
  2. Requires all Arizona public schools that teach K-3 to adopt an evidence-based reading curriculum that includes the essential components of reading instruction. Schools also must provide ongoing professional development.
  3. Requires all districts and charter schools to submit a K-3 Literacy Plan and student achievement data yearly.

Additionally, the state has tasked council members to develop methods of best practices for teaching reading based on the essential components of reading instruction and supported by evidence-based research.

These essential components include phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, vocabulary, reading fluency, and reading comprehension.

43. South Carolina (2017: 47th)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

South Carolina’s Read to Succeed Act was introduced in 2014 and set the groundwork for mandatory third-grade retention, intervention programs, professional development, and new curriculum.

According to nationsreportcard.gov, South Carolina fell from 38th in 2015 to 47th in 2017 in average 4thgrade reading scores. They have since jumped back up to 43rd, but still have a long way to go.

The eight components of the Read to Succeed legislation are as follows:

  1. State, district, and school reading plans
  2. Focus on third-grade progression
  3. Summer reading camps
  4. Provision of reading interventions
  5. Requirements for in-service educator endorsements
  6. Early learning and literacy development
  7. Teacher preparation
  8. Reading coaches

 

As a local South Carolina newspaper put it in a recent headline: “South Carolina spent $214 million on child literacy. It didn’t work.”

There has not been much movement since the Read to Succeed Act, but South Carolina did sign a bill into law in 2018 that stated, “Beginning with the 2019-2020 School Year, to the extent funding is provided or that approved screening tools are available at no cost, a local school district shall use the universal screening process to screen each student in the district who is in kindergarten through first grade three times each school year…”

42. Texas (2017: 45th)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

Texas introduced its Early Childhood Literacy Plan in 2019 with the specific goal of increasing their third-grade reading levels. While the bill doesn’t specify the types of literacy programs that should be used, it lays out a clear reporting system that will allow the board of trustees to review the plan annually.

The literacy plan also states that the professional development of teachers must consider the needs of bilingual students and special language programs.

The bill created an Early Learning Allotment to fund programs and services for literacy and math programs for pre-K through third grade.

In June 2019, Governor Abbot signed House Bill (HB) 3 which can be broken down into four major policy areas:

 

One notable inclusion in HB 3 is the requirement for all districts to provide for the use of a phonics curriculum that uses systematic instruction in K-3. Moreover, all districts must prioritize the placement of highly effective teachers in K-2 and by 2021, all Pre-K-6 teachers must pass a science of teaching reading exam.

41. Oklahoma (2017: 38th)

3rd Grade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening? No.

Over the last five years, Oklahoma legislation has been enacting and amending laws regarding the screening of dyslexia, intervention programs, and professional development.

Teachers are now required to receive annual training for dyslexia awareness from a multi-sensory structured language training institute. Intending to establish a comprehensive dyslexia training pilot program, Oklahoma has been closely monitoring the success of this program.

In 2017, the state created the Dyslexia and Education Task Force which is responsible for crafting a Dyslexia Handbook for schools to use.

It can also not go unmentioned that Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill in 2018 that led to a teacher walkout of thousands of union and non-union teachers. The walkout forced around 200 school districts to close, which is close to half of the 512 districts in the state.

What forced the walkout?

The Union Demands: 

 

What Was Given:

 

The Oklahoma Education Associated declared an end to the strike after 11 days following an agreement to increase salaries and education funding.

Executive Summary

In our next installment of this series, we will look at the states that rank 40 through 31. Some of the states that will be featured include California, Hawaii, Michigan, and Georgia.

Additional Resources

Improving Literacy

Dyslexia Laws 2019

Education Commission of the States