Echoes of State Literacy Task Force Call for More Reading Coaches, Specialists

Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

As California strives to get every child reading for third grade by 2026, state education leaders emphasize the importance of literacy coaches and specialists.

State education leaders say hiring more literacy coaches and specialists to work with both teachers and students is key to getting all students to read in third grade by 2026, amid what some have called a national literacy crisis

Head of State of Public Education Tony Thurmond set that target for 2026 last fall and brought together a task force of educators, parents and education experts to formulate policy recommendations aimed at turning the tide of years of low reading scores across California. In a virtual hearing Wednesday, Thurmond, the chair of the State Board of Education, Linda Darling-Hammond, and other educators pledged to continue lobbying for funding for literacy coaches and specialists as the state budget process unfolds. They also expressed support for literacy initiatives included in three bills already proposed in the State Assembly and Senate.

Literacy coaches primarily train teachers and school staff in literacy instruction, conduct professional development, and facilitate any reading curriculum that the school uses. Specialists work directly with students in one-on-one or small group settings.

“I know reading in the third grade has eluded the education system for many, many years, but this is something we can achieve,” Thurmond said at the hearing.

For years, experts have identified third-grade reading literacy as an important measure of students’ overall academic career. Research shows that students who have not yet read at the classroom level by then will have difficulty in catching up during their teaching career, and may be at greater risk dropping out of school and ending up in criminal law.

During the school year 2020-2160.21% of third grade students tested below the state’s Smarter Balanced test for English/Language Arts.

Attorney Mark Rosenbaum, who represents students who had difficulty reading, filed a lawsuit against the state in 2017 that resulted in a… settlement of $50 million in grants to 75 California elementary schools. Respond to the hearing he said schools would certainly benefit from more literacy coaches and specialists, but he thinks the task force’s recommendations are “a drop in the ocean in terms of what it takes” to give struggling readers the support they need. The state should be held responsible for years of lagging reading scores, he said, which is not a reflection of the students themselves.

“This is not the time for patchy approaches; this is the time for comprehensive science-based programs … and making sure every school has what they need,” Rosenbaum said.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2022-23 budget proposal in January inclusive $500 million over five years for high-needs schools to train and hire literacy coaches and reading specialists. Thurmond said at the hearing that it is too early to anticipate what the governor will include in his revised budget proposal in May based on adjusted revenue forecasts. But the inspector said he will continue to advocate for the reading specialists and coaches.

The task force came to that recommendation based on research from the Learning Policy Institute, of which Darling-Hammond is the president and CEO. In 2020, The Learning Policy Institute published Research go inside seven “positive outlier” districts in the state where: African American, Latino and white students significantly outperformed their peers in the California state assessments. These districts have extensively coached all teachers and professional development on literacy instruction, Darling-Hammond said.

All districts had a strong emphasis on sounds, phonemic awareness and other reading techniques in preschool and first grade, she said. They also promoted “rich literacy environments” with reading-along, “extended” speaking and listening capabilities, and classroom-level texts that were both culturally responsive and available in multiple languages.

“These weren’t quiet classrooms with kids listening and writing things down or copying things from the board, but classrooms where students sat in pairs, guided reading discussions doing collaborative work using those skills,” Darling-Hammond said.

The districts also regularly used assessments, records and other diagnostic tools to gauge where students’ skills were and what remained to be worked on. They also routinely made one-on-one tutoring available to students who needed it, integrating literacy instruction across all subject areas.

“One of the things we learn from the study is that if you give the right kind of small group or one-on-one tutoring with a strong reading curriculum, you can help a child move forward very quickly in 12-15 weeks. to catch up with the rest of the class,” Darling-Hammond said.

Erika Torres, County Administrator for the Inglewood Unified School District, said without specific funding for reading specialists and coaches, the district would not be able to afford them. The district has a 20-30% proficiency rate for English/language arts across all classes, and Torres views providing “quality literacy education” to all of its students as a matter of social justice, as well as a “critical school dropout prevention strategy.”

Thurmond also supports two Assembly bills and a Senate bill proposed by MP Mia Bonta, D-Oakland and Senator Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara. AB2465 would create grant programs to provide library cards to every public school student, fund programs that would include home visits to involve families in their students’ literacy education, and pay for the development and qualification of 500 new bilingual educators. AB2498 would set up a three-year pilot program for summer literacy and learning loss mitigation next year based on the Freedom Schools Programs. SB 952 would provide grants to school districts, state education offices, and certain charter schools to create bilingual immersion programs.

To receive more such reports, click here to sign up for EdSource’s free daily email on the latest developments in education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.