JUNEAU — The Senate Education Committee began hearings Wednesday on establishing a reading program for kindergarten through third-grade public school students to meet grade-level expectations.
Sponsor Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, says the bill was not going to be pushed through the system in a hurry in order to give an appropriate time to discuss content and additions.
In many respects, the bill mirrors Colorado’s Read Act passed by that state in 2012.
“Colorado officials have been quite pleased with the improvements they have seen since they passed their bill,” Stevens said.
The Alaska version will require school districts to establish reading programs for kindergarten through third grade in their schools for students not yet at grade-level reading expectations.
The bill requires that an individual plan for each student be implemented by the classroom teacher after notifying the student’s parent. The documentation will track the student through his or her academic school career. Parents will have the final say on whether the student will be held back a grade because of a reading deficiency.
“Many of our larger districts are already mirroring many elements in this bill,” said Dr. Susan McCauley, director of teaching and learning support for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, to the committee.
The bill calls for the state to attach the participating school’s accreditation, or desire to be accredited, to implementation of the program. Not all Alaska schools are accredited.
“I am so happy we are talking about this,” Posie Boggs, a tutor working in Anchorage, told committee members. “I am still getting non-reading eighth-graders from the district.”
If passed, the bill would exempt students having a difficulty comprehending the English language and those students with an individualized education program or IEP. IEPs guide the delivery of education support services to students with a disability.
Stevens said the bill’s language about exemptions was meant primarily for foreign exchange students in Alaska schools. When asked about exemptions for Alaska Natives in rural Alaska whose first language is not English and are having difficulty understanding English, he said the bill was still a work in progress.
Alaska Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, who sits on the committee, said it was about time for the state to require students to read by the time they leave third grade.
“We’ve been a state for 50 years now, and we’re just now saying you need to read by the third grade,” Huggins said. “I say shame on us.”