10. Pennsylvania (2017: 13th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

While Pennsylvania doesn’t have a law that required dyslexia screening, it did create the Dyslexia and Early Literacy Intervention Pilot Program in 2018. The bill describes “intensive intervention” as explicit, multi-sensory, synthetic phonics instruction and a structured language program delivered with fidelity by a trained interventionist.

The pilot program will run for five full school years and select at least eight school districts to participate in the program. In order for a district to be eligible for the pilot program, the district must enroll no more than 15,000 students and provide full-day kindergarten.

The district must also submit a proposal to the state that identifies how it will meet the following guidelines of the program:

9. Virginia (2017: 6th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

Virginia has been one of the most proactive states when it comes to enacting education policies. Over the last few years, the state has passed many laws that change the way institutions of higher education must shape their programs.

For example, in 2018, Virginia passed HB1265 which states each education preparation program offered by institutions of higher education that leads to a degree, concentration, or certificate for reading specialists must include coursework in the identification, appropriate interventions, accommodations, and teaching techniques for students with dyslexia.

SB 368 also requires those programs to include coursework in the “constructs and pedagogy underlying remediation of reading, spelling, and writing.” Furthermore, it requires reading specialists to demonstrate a mastery of an evidence-based, structured literacy instruction approach that includes explicit, systematic, sequential, and cumulative instruction.

8. New Hampshire (2017: 3rd)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

New Hampshire introduced HB258 in 2019 which established a commission to study teacher preparation and education programs. The 15-member commission will specifically study recruitment and admission standards, teacher preparation courses, requirements for student teaching, professional standards, continuing education requirements, and retention.

Moreover, the commission is charged to review research-based practices and the status of their implementation within programs such as competency-based learning, project-based learning, and assessment measures.

Additionally, they will investigate international and national programs that have shown extraordinary results and identify the factors that contribute to such results. Lastly, they will recommend changes to current legislation and rules.

It will be interesting to see where this research takes New Hampshire, as its reading scores slightly suffered in recent years.

Also of note, New Hampshire passed HB1644 which defined dyslexia and laid out the standards for screening and treatment for dyslexia and related disorders.

It states that all students enrolling in public schools shall be screened using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) or an equivalent screener for the identification of characteristics that are associated with risk factors for dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia upon entering kindergarten or first grade.

7. Connecticut (2017: 4th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

While Connecticut doesn’t currently have legislation the requires dyslexia screening for all students, it did create a task force to analyze and make recommendation on issues relating to the implementation of the laws governing dyslexia instruction and training.

The task force must examine and make recommendations on whether institutions of higher education are complying with having 12 hours of instruction on evidence-based structured literacy intervention for students with dyslexia. They must also look into whether the state’s universal screening assessments are appropriate and represent current research on the science of reading and assessments.

Connecticut also added to HB7205 which states the Department of Education shall establish a reading readiness program that provided tiered supports in early literacy to any district designated as an alliance district (Connecticut’s 33 lowest performing districts).

Connecticut recently released their interagency plan for the state’s Two-Generational Initiative. The plan focuses on “creating opportunities for and addressing the needs of children and adults together by taking a family-centered, results-oriented approach so that families get the education, workforce training, and social supports they need to secure economic stability that passes from one generation to the next.”

A 2017 law designated the Office of Early Learning as the lead coordinating agency for the initiative.

6. Florida (2017: 5th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Yes.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

On February 12. 2020, Florida ditched the Common Core and adopted the Benchmark for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.).

The state’s new curriculum will be centered around the B.E.S.T. Standards and will gradually be transitioned into school districts. This new standard was created by more than 80 Florida-based teachers and stakeholder groups and has a specific focus on English and math.

The B.E.S.T. Standards for English will focus on reading skills rather than content-heavy instruction. Students will have a focus on decoding and vocabulary skills so they can learn new words through systematic phonics instruction.

Florida has established benchmarks, reading lists, and vocabulary words that all students should be meeting at each grade level. Some of those benchmarks include:

There are also benchmarks for students learning certain literary elements and themes as they progress through each grade.

Districts have the option to implement B.E.S.T. as soon as they please, although Florida is giving its districts time to familiarize their teachers and transition their curriculum. The state plans to officially roll out B.E.S.T after 2023, giving districts about three years to purchase new materials.

5. Colorado (2017: 14th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

There is perhaps no other state that has put more of an investment into early learning and reading instruction over the last decade. Colorado has not rested on its laurels and continues to collect as much data as possible on literacy.

In 2019, Colorado passed HB19-1134 as a direct result of advocacy groups and parents who voiced their concerns over the identification and support for students with dyslexia. The act created a working group that will review data concerning dyslexia and make suggestions to improve educational outcomes of students with reading deficiencies.

It also states that beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the Department of Education shall implement a pilot program for screening, identification process, and intervention strategies for early students in kindergarten through third grade who may have dyslexia. The department must submit its final findings before 2023.

Also in 2019, Colorado passed SB19-199 which focuses on supporting effective implementation of the Colorado READ Act. Colorado has placed a huge emphasis on the science of reading and evidence-based instruction that is focused on developing the foundational reading skills of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, orals skills, and reading comprehension.

While the state’s reading scores have been improving and are well above the national average, some literacy advocates are still fearful that laws are too vague and can be open to misinterpretation.

4. Utah (2017: 11th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? No.

Utah introduced a bill in 2018 that amended the K-3 Reading Improvement Program and renamed it the Early Literacy Program. Of the many new additions, local education boards must submit a plan for literacy proficiency improvement that contains core instruction in the following elements:

The plans must also include intervention strategies that aligned to student needs, as well as professional development for teachers, literacy coaches, and interventionists in kindergarten through grade three. The bill also calls for evidence-based intervention curriculum and literacy assessments that identify student learning needs and monitor learning progress.

In 2019, Utah enacted HB463 which authorizes schools to use early interactive reading software for students in grades 2 or 3 who are struggling to read.

SB37, also introduced in 2019, amended the Intervention for Reading Difficulties Program. The bill defines dyslexia and lays out a multi-tier system of supports that provides intensive interventions for students at risk for or experiencing reading difficulties. The reading interventions must be explicit, systematic, and targeted to a student’s specific reading difficulty.

What makes all this even more impressive is the fact that, out of all 50 states, Utah spends the least amount of money per student.

3. Wyoming (2017: 7th)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

Wyoming introduced an act in 2019 (HB297) that states each school district must select and implement a reading assessment and intervention program that uses an instrument that screens for signs of dyslexia. They must also implement with fidelity and evidence-based intervention program.

This program must be administered to all students in kindergarten through grade three. In order to best assist the school district, the department of education will collect kindergarten through grade two longitudinal data from assessments. These assessments will measure the specific skills that evidence-based research has concluded are predictive of reading proficiency, which include:

2. New Jersey (2017: 2nd)

3rdGrade Retention Law? Allowed, but not required.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

Surprisingly, New Jersey has not passed many laws regarding early learning and literacy in recent years. And while the state still ranks above the national average, the fourth-grade reading scores actually dropped 6 points since the 2017 Nation’s Report Card.

However, it is of note that New Jersey ranks behind only New York and Connecticut in terms public school spending per student ($18,920 as of 2017), according to the United States Census Bureau.

The most recent literacy policy of note that was passed in New Jersey was AB3606. This act stated that during each five-year, 100-hour professional development period, teachers are required to complete at least 20 hours of professional development instruction on the screening, intervention, accommodation, and use of technology for students with reading disabilities such as dyslexia.

New Jersey’s English Language Arts Learning Standards were revised in 2016 and recommend 90 minutes of uninterrupted literacy instruction for all students in grades K-5. The standards also focus on meaning-emphasis instruction.

1. Massachusetts (2017:1st)

3rdGrade Retention Law? No.

Dyslexia Screening Legislation? Yes.

Similar to New Jersey, Massachusetts has been fairly stagnant when it comes to education policies. While its public school system continues to rank as one of the best in the nation, the state actually saw its reading scores drop from 2017 to 2019.

Massachusetts tried to combat that by enacting H4032 which added several provision for English learners. It also requires the department of education to develop benchmarks and assessment tools to assist districts in identifying English learners who are not meeting benchmarks.

The Legislature also approved Chapter 272 of the Acts of 2018 which requires the state’s education departments to issue guidelines that assist districts in developing screening procedures or protocols for students who demonstrate one or more indicators of “a neurological learning disability, including, but not limited to, dyslexia.”

One of the main focuses in 2020 for the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is improving Boston’s lowest-performing schools. In September, the Education Commissioner’s office announced a complete review of Boston schools.

They will assess things such as curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, and student support. The last time Boston was reviewed with such scrutiny was over 10 years ago.

As one of the board members put it, “The only people I would be willing to see embarrassed in any policy decision are the guardians of the status quo.”