Senate Panel Hears Bill On Elementary School Reading Programs

With education being a hot issue this legislative session, some politicians are looking at the basics of learning in their effort to improve student outcomes. Today, the Senate Education Committee held its first hearing on a bill that would establish a reading program targeted at kindergarteners through third graders.

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Gary Stevens chairs that committee, and he’s sponsoring the bill. The goal is to reach struggling students early, instead of playing a difficult and costly game of catch-up.

“You would think everyone who’s an adult out there with a job can read, but it appears that’s not always the case,
says Stevens. “There are people struggling somewhere along the way, they didn’t pick up that ability, and have never since.”

The bill is based on a literacy law that’s on the books in Colorado, and it would require school districts to conduct reading assessments to identify students who are behind. Those students would be given extra support in getting up to grade level.

During the hearing, Stevens said that many Alaska school districts are already taking those steps with their students, but acknowledged that it could be a challenge for smaller districts to comply with the legislation.
The Department of Education is reserving judgment on the bill.

“Is it the absolute right direction? I think it’d be interesting to hear from districts,” says Les Morse, a deputy commissioner with the department. “But there are some very good and important approaches to reading instruction that are embedded within this legislation.”

If approved, the reading program is expected to cost the state $200,000.

According to a report released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Alaska is in the bottom ten states for childhood reading proficiency. About three-quarters of Alaska students are not reading at grade level, which is slightly up from a decade ago.