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Western States Take Aim at Early Literacy During 2022 Legislative Sessions

By Jonathan Lennartz

The phrase “science of reading” denotes a large body of rigorously conducted research about how children learn to decode and comprehend words, particularly at the K-3 level. As the pandemic impact has deeply impacted student learning processes, there is increased urgency to further early literacy. Strategies to enhance early literacy and appropriate educator training were reflected in several bills passed by western legislatures in 2022.

The recent passage of Utah’s Senate Bill 127, titled “Early Literacy Outcomes Improvement,” requires the use of diagnostic assessments to target interventions for students lacking competency in a reading skill. The bill also stipulates timelines to ensure Utah teachers receive extensive training in the science of reading.

In Wyoming, Senate File 32 outlines the state’s “K-3 Reading Assessment and Intervention Program,” implementing assessment tools to screen for dyslexia and reading difficulties, while establishing markers to identify students’ reading skills and progress. The bill was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.

New Mexico’s legislature recently passed an education budget that expands the state’s Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) training. LETRS is designed to help educators gain a deeper understanding of the science of reading and properly assess for reading challenges. Previously implemented for K-2 teachers during the 2020-21 school year, the budget widens LETRS training to grades 3-5, aligning with what New Mexico Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus has described as the “year of literacy”.     

CSG West Education Committee Co-Chair, Utah Senator Ann Millner, is a strong proponent of evidence-based approaches to early literacy. A Regents Professor of Health Administration and former President at Weber State University, Senator Millner’s interest in this topic led to its inclusion during the Education Committee session at the 2021 CSG West Annual Meeting.