Connecticut has become the latest state to pass legislation requiring that reading instruction be based on the science of reading. According to the state’s recently enacted budget bill, every school district in the state is required to focus its reading curriculum on the science of reading by 2023, despite opposition from some educators and parents.
In the past three years, eleven states have enacted laws designed to expand evidence-based reading instruction in grades K–3. Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas require teachers to teach or states to provide curricula based on the science of reading.
Known as the Right to Read act, the Connecticut bill also calls for $12.8 million in spending to ensure that school districts can hire reading coaches to prevent students falling behind and establishes a Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success that will oversee the state reading curriculum for students in grades pre-K–3.
School districts will need to implement one of the five approved methods of teaching by July 2023 and schools will have to inform the literacy center biannually about which program they are using. In theory, districts will have the option to submit a waiver to use a different teaching model, but any such model would have to be approved by the education commissioner and advisory council, which makes the option unlikely.
The bill received bipartisan support, but many educators and parents raised concerns about requiring districts to implement reading models approved by the literacy center, which has yet to be established and the directors of which are yet to be appointed.
“In its current form, this bill furthers a color-blind approach that does not acknowledge that students’ lived experiences, interests, and local context combined with excellent differentiated instruction are the factors that contribute to successful reading,” argued Ivelise Velazquez, a district leader in New Haven of Puerto Rican heritage with 27 years of experience as an elementary teacher, reading teacher, director of reading, and district leader.
In her testimony, Velasquez asked, “Who are the researchers and private entities behind the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success? If this center will have approval rights for the curriculum and methods of instruction that we use in each district, shouldn’t we know who they are, what racial and cultural assets and beliefs they draw from, and shouldn’t we know precisely what they mean by ‘the science of reading’?”
“As an educator, I feel this bill will severely limit the options for students who need reading instruction. While the science of reading has options that support students, making it the required only option is detrimental. This reading instruction may not work for every student. There are many important components to reading and schools need to have options in supporting students. School districts should not have to apply for an exception to use other programs that support their students. Not everyone needs extensive instruction in phonemic awareness; some need instruction in comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary,” East Haddam resident Nicole Hendry wrote in her testimony opposing the bill.
This Connecticut Literacy Model was created in the years leading up to the state’s school-funding trial, where one of the focuses was on high school students who were graduating without knowing how to read and write.
The bill will also require the state Department of Education, in coordination with center officials, to create a list of reading assessments used by districts starting in the 2022–23 school year to identify children who are reading below proficiency in grades K–3 and to provide guidance to districts regarding how to administer the tests.
Several other states (Alaska, California, Louisiana, Tennessee, and New York) currently have science of reading–related laws under review.