Abigail Roy: Vermont can wait no longer to embrace the science of reading
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This commentary is by Abigail Roy of Essex, a school psychologist and evaluator at the Stern Center for Language and Learning in Williston. She is a board member of the International Dyslexia Association’s Northern New England Alliance.
Students who are not proficient readers by third grade suffer lifelong consequences. Three-quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school, making them four times more likely to drop out without finishing their secondary education.
According to Vermont’s 2019 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium data, only 50 percent of Vermont third-graders scored proficient or above in English Language Arts. Sadly, student performance has declined further, to 42.5 percent in 2021, with the impact of global pandemic.
Fortunately, there are decades of robust investigation on how the brain learns to read and write, supplemented by applied research on effective reading instruction. This body of evidence is often referred to as the science of reading.
There is a growing recognition nationwide among policymakers and educators regarding the importance of evidence-based literacy instruction to improve outcomes for students. Hardly a week goes by without a national news article that highlights changes in literacy instruction happening around the country. In part, thanks to Emily Hanford’s investigative journalism and the publication of her most recent podcast, Sold A Story, a movement toward literacy instruction reform is sweeping the nation.
According to Education Week, as of May 9, 31 states had passed laws or implemented new policies related to science-of-reading-based instruction. Vermont is not one of those states.
Poor reading scores are not the fault of our teachers; they are doing the best they can with the knowledge and resources that they have. They are products of teacher preparation programs around the country that continue to train teachers in literacy methods that are unsupported by science.
Consequently, we continue to send teachers into classrooms woefully underprepared to effectively teach literacy, resulting in more than half of our third-graders failing to meet proficiency standards.
Additionally, the cost and time associated with reading remediation after the third grade is significantly higher than investing in early intervention. Vermont currently ranks second in the nation in per-pupil spending at $23,299, and it is estimated that the additional per-student cost for providing intensive remedial reading instruction to struggling readers in middle school is over $10,000.
Vermonters should expect, and our children deserve, better results, and that begins with training our teachers in effective literacy instruction.
The social and economic impact of poor reading skills is significant not only for individuals but for society as a whole. A 2020 Gallup study reported that 54 percent of U.S. adults are not proficient readers, costing our economy whopping $2.2 trillion a year in lost productivity.
Training our classroom teachers in the science of reading is an investment in both our community and our world. Vermonters cannot afford to ignore the science any longer.