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Teachers are learning about the science of reading. Next up: implementing it

CCAC North Library

In 2022 Utah lawmakers set an ambitious goal to raise reading proficiency for young students to 70% by 2027. The law they passed included funding to train educators in the science of reading and to hire literacy coaches. It also created a panel of experts to provide guidance and required schools to adopt science of reading curriculum.

A year later, all Utah K-3 teachers are working on finishing the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, or LETRS, training and will all likely be finished by next summer, according to Jennifer Throndsen, the Director of Teaching and Learning at the Utah State Board of Education. One group of educators started the program back in 2021 thanks to federal COVID funding and Throndsen said they’ll finish this year.

The whole program takes about 150 hours to complete over two years.

“Really what it does is summarize all the work of the science of reading so that teachers have a foundational knowledge of what the science of reading is. Because the science of reading has typically not been taught in teacher education programs,” said Janice Dole, senior research fellow at Utah State University’s Center for the School of the Future and a member of the state’s science of reading expert panel.

The state board and panel have also worked to set criteria for literacy coaches who help teachers. Dole said the panel has also helped districts understand how to select materials that are consistent with the science of reading. The board and panel have also worked with higher education institutions so that graduating teachers are knowledgeable about the science of reading.

Throndsen said their main focus has been on getting everyone on the same page about what the science of reading is and what the research says about how students learn to read.

“The next part that we're really going to have to focus on is how you teach based on what we know from the science, because that part's a little less clear cut,” Throndsen said. “We have to do something different. And to do that takes more knowledge and skills being developed.”

During a recent State Board of Education meeting, Dole told board members that learning how individuals read is very different from learning how to teach people to read.

“It's really hard to get teachers to understand the difference between those two. And I think it's a problem across the field and across the country. So this is nothing unique to us.”

For year two of working towards the goal, Dole thinks one thing they will focus on is seeing how the science of reading has been implemented in classrooms statewide and how literacy coaches are being used. Another thing they started and will continue next year is making sure principals understand the science of reading

“I'll just tell you from personal experience, the principal is a huge factor in the success of a building in terms of raising student achievement,” Dole said.

This summer, the state will get some updated data on how elementary students are doing in terms of literacy proficiency and what progress has been made so far.

“We are very much a data-driven panel and we're going to look very carefully at that data to see what are the things that have worked,” Dole said.

Throndsen is not anticipating any big leaps in proficiency since it’s only been one year, but she’s still hopeful the state will be able to get to 70% proficiency by 2027.

Another source of that hope, which Dole shares, comes from seeing how Mississippi has been able to dramatically improve early literacy. What happened there has been heralded as the “Mississippi Miracle.”

“If Mississippi can do it, why can't we do it? And that's probably true for a lot of states,” Dole said.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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