Colorado fails to improve reading proficiency, despite READ Act legislation

Suzie Glassman

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) An independent evaluation of Colorado’s Reading to Ensure Academic Development (READ) Act found the legislation has done little to improve third-grade reading proficiency.

According to the report by WestEd, 99% of third-grade English language learners, students with disabilities, and students with a significant reading deficiency (SRD) failed to meet or exceed expectations on the English language arts (ELA) portion Colorado Measures of Academic Standards (CMAS) assessment.

To improve proficiency rates, students with SRD receive an individualized READ plan with customized literacy intervention. Schools can apply for money from the state to fund those programs through the READ Act. But, the data shows those interventions haven’t had the desired effect.

“Students who are benefiting from these funds are on a READ plan and are not likely to hit proficiency by the end of third grade – that’s devastating,” said board member Debora Sheffel.

Further, 53% of third-grade students who’ve never been on a READ plan also failed to meet or exceed ELA expectations.

Research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation states that “the importance of achieving early grade reading proficiency for later student academic success is well-documented. Researchers and education leaders consider the achievement of reading proficiency by the end of the third grade to be crucial to a child’s future academic success and financial independence.”

Why the READ plan is failing to improve literacy rates

Members of the board questioned WestEd representatives and Colorado Department of Education Associate Commissioner of Student Learning Floyd Cobb about the lack of progress.

WestEd said there’s a lack of clear guidance for serving English learners and students with disabilities under the READ Act and that the pandemic significantly impacted reading levels.

They also found flaws in the list of state-approved READ Act assessments used to identify struggling readers.

According to the report, “Each assessment vendor provides a cut score to CDE that indicates to schools using their assessments which students should be classified as having an SRD, but vendors can use different approaches to set their cut scores. Additionally, the approved assessments vary in their administration modes, content, and other characteristics.”

Educators should use cut scores and a body of evidence to determine which students would benefit from READ act intervention. Still, the report found that school-provided SRD classifications for students nearly always matched the SRD classification that students would have received based solely on their READ Act interim assessment score.

This finding indicates that teachers aren’t using other signs of reading difficulty with students above the cut score but reading below grade level to decide who needs additional help.

State commissioner Kathy Anthes told the board that the newly-implemented science of reading training and other legislation around additional training for principals should help strengthen the READ act to serve Colorado’s students better.

About the independent report

READ act legislation passed in 2019 mandates a yearly evaluation of the law’s effectiveness. For 2022, WestEd set out with two broad questions to guide their report:

1. To what extent has the implementation of the READ Act led to a reduction in the number of students identified as having significant reading deficiencies (SRDs)?

2. What are the most effective processes, procedures, methods, and strategies that local education providers (LEPs) receiving per-pupil funds and schools receiving Early Literacy Grant (ELG) funds use to achieve significant growth to standard?

Schools identified more students with SRD in 2022 than in any previous year since the READ ACT began, although it’s clear the pandemic is playing a pivotal role.

The report made several recommendations, including reconsidering the number of assessments used, defining clear benchmarks for growth, and specifying how data will guide students at all levels to reading proficiency.

They also recommend the state convene a panel of experts in literacy development for English language learners and students with disabilities to develop state guidance on how to best use READ act funds and strategies with those groups.

The entire Year 2 Summary report is available on the CDE website.

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