Castle Rock, CO

DougCo rolls out new scientifically-based reading programs

Suzie Glassman

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) How early elementary teachers structure their reading lessons and the materials they use will look different this school year after a law passed requiring all K-3 teachers across the state to take 45 hours of training in the science of reading.

The training takes educators through scientifically proven methods for teaching kids how to read, focusing on explicit instruction in letter and word sounds, decoding, vocabulary, spelling, and comprehension.

“Around 1,300 district employees completed the training, many of whom didn’t have to,” said DougCo superintendent Erin Kane. “We had all these teachers, central administrators, and principals who also wanted to delve in and understand the science of reading concepts.”

Educators could choose from a list of approved training programs. Matt Reynolds, learning services officer, said most staff took the free course offered by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE).

“We got a lot of great feedback about the training. Teachers expressed how in-depth it was regarding the resources provided and their applicability to teaching,” said Reynolds. “Perhaps, the only negative comments were around the required time it would take to complete.”

Still, 99% of the district’s K-3 teachers and literacy specialists met the deadline and earned a “READ Act Designation” they can add to their teaching license.

Kane said she’s incredibly grateful for all the teachers and leaders who jumped in without hesitation despite the challenges of the pandemic. “They showed remarkable resiliency and dedication to their work and students,” said Kane.

New core reading programs

A 2019 update to the READ Act also requires districts to use an evidence-based reading curriculum that aligns with the science of reading principles. After receiving a letter from the CDE in 2021 saying the district’s reading curriculum wasn’t up to par, the district piloted three new programs and ultimately chose Benchmarks and McGraw Hill Wonders.

Reynolds said he and his team are excited to roll out the new core reading programs to all of the district’s elementary schools, and training on the new curriculum is ongoing. “It’s not a one-and-done type of thing,” said Reynolds. “The district is committed to continuing professional development in how teachers teach reading.”

Kane said, “the schools in their second year with either program are already starting to see tremendous growth, so we’re super excited.”

“I believe down to the very core of my being that the principles taught in the science of reading instruction are the very best way to teach kids to read,” said Kane. “The district isn’t just checking a box to look good for the state. I believe in what we’re doing.”

Science of reading

According to Education Weekly, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws or implemented new policies related to evidence-based reading instruction since 2013.

For decades, educators stood by a different teaching approach called balanced literacy, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that children best learn to read with structured, explicit instruction in phonics and decoding.

Balanced literacy uses a three-cueing approach that asks kids to scan text for pictures and clues when encountering a word they don’t know. This tactic isn’t supported by evidence and can lessen the chances a kid will recognize the word quickly the next time they see it.

“The difference between balanced literacy and structured literacy (another term for the science of reading programs) is evidence,” said Dr. Liz Brooke, chief learning officer at Lexia Learning. “It’s like if you went to your doctor, and they said, ‘we want to put you on this medicine for your diabetes, but there’s no evidence that it actually works.’ You wouldn’t accept that.”

“We should have at least the same rigor as the medical field when we’re talking about our children and learning to read because 85% of curriculum is done through reading.”

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I'm a reporter covering the Douglas County School District in Colorado.

Denver, CO

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