National Eye on Colo.'s HB 1238 to Enhance Literacy by Curbing Social Promotion

Colorado’s legislative bid to enhance early literacy is getting some national attention. The bipartisan House Bill 1238 enlists parents and educators to focus on interventions for struggling readers in the early grades and requires the local superintendent to sign off before a non-proficient reader can advance past 3rd grade. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow was sought out for comment by American Family Radio News reporter Bob Kellogg:

“Something needs to be done to provide consequences and hold schools accountable for helping students learn to read,” he says, “because if students just keep getting passed up through the system and graduate without those skills, we’re not preparing them well for life.”

Also in the story, Ben highlights the success Florida has experienced by cutting back severely on 3rd grade social promotion. Indeed, research by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters shows the average student held back for extra reading help gained more than a half-year’s learning proficiency on struggling students who were pushed up through the system. HB 1238 isn’t exactly the same, nor quite as strong, as Florida’s law. But it does represent a significantly positive step.

One Colorado school district (Harrison 2) has started holding back kids lacking needed reading ability at three critical grades — 3rd, 5th and 8th — and providing them specially focused attention. An article in this week’s Colorado Springs Gazette highlights a few successful anecdotes, but more telling will be the next round of state assessment data that comes out. Will they duplicate the findings from Florida?

Kellogg’s report also noted:

DeGrow says it is important to help prepare teachers with the ability to teach basic literacy skills. He adds that, surprisingly, research shows a significant number of teachers are not prepared to do that.

Specifically, Ben was speaking about research conducted among Colorado teachers and presented at a 2006 Independence Institute event on “the reading crisis.” Florida’s greater emphasis on training teachers in scientifically-based reading instruction is also part of the reason for their dramatic rise in 4th grade reading scores.

I’m young and a better-than-average reader among kids my age, and I find this issue to be no laughing matter. Here is hoping that HB 1238 crosses the finish line intact, for the sake of thousands of Colorado kids who need to become able readers in order to have a good chance to succeed in life.