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 4thgrade 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 2017 Nation’s Report Card.

In the second installment of our literacy policy breakdown, we will cover the states that ranked 40 through 31.

NOTE:

 

40. California (2017: 43rd)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? No.

California is in a bit of a standstill when it comes to its literacy policies. Earlier this year, Senate Bill 614 was introduced which would have abandoned California’s requirement that elementary school teachers must have a basic understanding of science-based reading instruction.

The bill also would have abolished the Reading Competence Instruction Assessment (RICA), which was a tool used for early intervention of struggling readers. SB 614 eventually was dismissed following heavy criticism from literary experts, civil rights advocates, and more.

As for dyslexia screening, California does have Assembly Bill 1369 in place which states existing law requires the Superintendent to develop guidelines that “assess pupils with dyslexia and to plan, provide, evaluate, and improve educational services to pupils with dyslexia.”

For the purpose of AB1369, ‘educational services’ means an evidence-based, multi-sensory, direct, explicit, structured, and sequential approach.

One bill that was passed this year was the Budget Act of 2019, which provides funding for several early learning programs. It also added 12 full-time positions to support new programs and policies within the Early Learning and Care Division.

39. Hawaii (2017: 40th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening? No.

Compared to other states, Hawaii is very unique because it is the State, rather than counties or districts, that is responsible for public education.

In an attempt to improve its public-school funding and spending, the department of education is contracting a third-party consultant to review the adequacy and efficiency of its education funding. In 2017, Hawaii’s education expenditures ranked lowest in the nation at 27.3%.

Moreover, Hawaii’s Executive Office on Early Learning released its 5-year Early Childhood State Plan. The building blocks of this comprehensive approach include:

  1. Child and family health, safety, and wellbeing
  2. Family partnerships and support
  3. Foundations for early learning
  4. A well-prepared, well-supported workforce
  5. Coordination of the early childhood system

 

Hawaii does have a law in place to support students with dyslexia and other literacy challenges. It requires the department of education to enhance the reading, writing, and spelling skills of all students, including those with dyslexia.

The state requires all schools to have early screening and assessments for early identification of dyslexia. These requirements include:

 

However, these laws have not translated into actionable steps. That is why according to

What’s Behind Hawaii’s Rising Test Scores for ELLs

38. Nevada (2017: 46th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

In 2019, Nevada passed a bill that revised the third-grade retention policy. It lowered the strictness of the law, now requiring parents and teachers to both agree not to promote a particular student.

Nevada also updated the laws surrounding Zoom elementary schools, which are designated schools that are provided extra resources for literacy and ELLs. The legislation requires that Zoom schools must provide prekindergarten programs free of charge and operate reading skills centers.

Moreover, the schools must provide professional development for teachers and free summer academies for schools not participating in the program.

The bill also reduced the class sizes for those who are English learners.

37. Delaware (2017: 29th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? No.

Early in 2019, the Delaware Department of Education released the Delaware Literacy Plan, designed to improve the literacy proficiency of its students.

The plan has four main strategies:

  1. Align core instruction to the standards
  2. Implement curriculum using high-quality instructional materials
  3. Enhance early literacy instruction
  4. Support educators

 

Delaware has bought into the fact that the strategy of reading is more than the skill of sounding out words and pronouncing them correctly.

Among the skills that schools are encouraged to teach are:

 

House Bill 92 also established the Early Learning Opportunities Council to oversee the coordination, planning, and research of before and after school programs, as well as summer learning programs.

36. Oregon (2017: 36th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

The Oregon Legislature passed the Student Success Act in 2019, which was a historic investment in Oregon education. The bill created a new business tax dedicated to early learning and K-12 education. How much of an investment? An estimated $1 billion per year.

$200 million goes into the State School Fund and the remaining is distributed into three accounts:

 

Moreover, the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission must establish the standards for the professional development of teachers. Schools must be able to demonstrate that candidates receive training in how to provide literacy instruction that enables all students to meet or exceed third-grade reading standards.

Oregon also enacted House Bill 2025 which established the Preschool Promise Program and is meant to expand preschool options available to all children in Oregon.

35. Georgia (2017: 32nd)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

Georgia recently introduced several bills related to dyslexia awareness, screening, and intervention.

Senate Bill 48 now requires the department of education to produce a handbook to guide, assist, and train school systems on how to instruct students with dyslexia. In addition, the State Board of Education must develop policies related to identifying and screening students K-3 by July 2020.

Following a three-year pilot program in three school districts, all school systems must screen students K-3 for dyslexia and provide reading intervention services starting in the 2024-2025 school year.

The list of approved dyslexia screening tools must address the following components:

 

Lastly, Georgia passed a bill that encourages schools, local agencies, and state agencies to recognize that dyslexia has a profound educational impact that must be addressed by the schools and educators.

34. Missouri (2017: 23rd)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

Missouri still abides by the Reading Instruction Act, established in 2002. The bill was enacted to ensure that all public schools establish reading programs in kindergarten through third grade that are based in scientific research.

These programs must include the essential components of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. All new teachers who teach reading in kindergarten through third grade must receive adequate training in these areas.

As part of the 2016 legislation that required dyslexia screening in all schools, Missouri also created the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia comprised of 21 members. The task force meets quarterly to provide recommendations for a statewide system of identification and intervention.

Of these recommendations, the committee is responsible for recommending evidence-based reading instruction with consideration of the National Reading Panel Report and Orton-Gillingham methodology.

33. Illinois (2017: 31st)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

In 2018, a bill was passed which required the Illinois State Board of Education to create a dyslexia handbook. The handbook must include guidelines on identifying signs of dyslexia, a description of proven strategies, and information about available resources.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education 2018 Annual Report, Illinois has 852 school districts, the fifth largest number in the nation.

52% of Illinois school districts serve less than 1,000 students, compared to the national average of 3,600 students per district. One in four districts serves just a single school. While it is not due to a recent policy change, some believe an inordinate amount of state’s education funding is put into too many administrators running too many school districts.

In the past four years, the number of school administrators in Illinois has risen even though schools are losing both students and teachers.

According to the Metropolitan Planning Council, Illinois could save as much as $708 million annually in school funding if it spent the national average on district administration. For comparison, the most recent state school funding formula in 2017 set a target of $350 million in annual spending.

In an attempt to correct this, state Rep. Rita Mayfield introduced the Classroom First Act which would create the School District Efficiency Commission. The goal would be to reduce the state’s school districts by at least 25%, instantly increasing classroom spending without a tax increase.

The bill passed out of the Illinois House by a unanimous 109-0 vote this spring. However, it has been stuck in the Senate ever since, as more than 400 school district administrators have publicly opposed it. Over a quarter of those administrators earn six-figure salaries.

32. Michigan (2017: 35th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? No.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s 2020 budget proposal would triple the funding for literacy coaches statewide, adding $24 million to hire literacy experts. In the current system, local districts must pay half the cost for those coaches but Whitmer’s proposed budget would have the state pay the full cost.

However, Gov. Whitmer is in the midst of a state budget fight with state legislature. The new budget that is heading to Whitmer’s desk is “still nowhere near what the governor proposed in the executive budget, and far short of what our children deserve,” said Whitmer’s spokesperson, Tiffany Brown.

The pending budget would direct an additional $60 million toward special education which would be a 2% increase in special education services. Whitmer had proposed a 4% increase.

The proposed budget would also provide money to double the number of literacy coaches from 93 to 186, which would fall short of Whitmer’s proposal of 279.

31. Tennessee (2017: 34th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening? Yes.

In 2016, Tennessee launched Read to be Ready, a major literacy initiative that received major fanfare in the education community. The initiative called for greater development of reading comprehension, as well as providing intervention strategies for struggling readers.

The activities recommended in their Early Literacy Matters initiative include reading and talking about books, telling stories, building vocabulary and language, and encouraging scribble writing.

Read to be Ready seemed to have been working wonders in Tennessee schools. Between summer reading camps and hundreds of statewide literacy coaches, Tennessee has seen their third-grade reading levels rise consistently.

Unfortunately, the network of literacy coaches is being dismantled. A new budget proposed by Gov. Bill Lee cut funding for the Read to be Ready program.

The budget cut left educators across the state frustrated. All were excited that Tennessee adopted a literacy initiative that was showing real results, but they’re know in disbelief that it just got pulled out from under them.

There is some good news though. In November 2019, Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn announced her plans of launching a $15 million literacy initiative. The goal of that initiative will be to “invest in a proven, coherent, statewide literacy program that includes high-quality materials, coaching, and shared diagnostics for data review.”

Executive Summary

In our next installment of this series, we will look at the states that rank 30 through 21. Some of the states that will be featured include New York, Washington, and Iowa.

Additional Resources

Improving Literacy

National Conference of State Legislatures

Education Commission of the States