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The ‘Science of Reading’ in 2024: 5 State Initiatives to Watch

The “science of reading” is making its way onto more governors’ and state legislators’ priority lists as the 2024 legislative session gets underway.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat, proposed a five-year early literacy plan to align reading instruction through grade 3 with evidence-based practices, allocating $30 million for the effort in her 2025 budget proposal.

Healey’s announcement comes only a few weeks after New York’s Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, unveiled her plan to bring the state “back to basics” in literacy. Hochul’s proposed 2025 budget includes requirements that districts’ curriculum and instructional approaches follow “scientifically based” practices.

In other states—including Indiana and Iowa—lawmakers have proposed bills that would ban outdated methods and instate a controversial mandate that 3rd graders not reading at grade level by the end of the school year be held back and taught with materials designed to address reading deficiencies.

These actions join a mounting tide of reading legislation across the country. Over the past decade, 37 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws or other policies related to evidence-based reading instruction.

The majority of this legislation has emerged in the past five years—in 2023 alone, 17 states implemented new policies.

Education Week has rounded up five initiatives to watch in 2024. Read on for more about what’s happening in each state.

New York

Hochul’s budget proposal would dedicate $10 million to train 20,000 teachers in the science of reading, and require the state’s department of education to provide school districts with guidance on best practices for reading instruction by July 2024.

School districts would have to review their curriculum and teaching approaches annually to ensure that they align, and demonstrate how to the state department of education.

In her announcement of the “Back to Basics” plan on Jan. 3, Hochul called this new push to reshape reading instruction “long overdue.”

“There was this idea, about 20 years ago, they thought, ‘Hey, there’s a whole different way of learning. Why don’t we just put kids in a room with books, and they’ll figure it out?” Hochul said. Studies show that this method, which often includes teaching children to rely on contextual clues in stories, doesn’t work, she said.

“Let’s teach … how to say the words. Let’s teach the kids what they mean. And that’s the difference—that has not been taught,” Hochul said.

At the same time, the state’s education department has launched a literacy initiative, publishing a series of briefs on evidence-based practices. But that work will focus on providing guidance for districts—not mandates or lists of required curricula, Commissioner Betty Rosa said in an interview with Education Week earlier this month.

The Reading League, a nonprofit headquartered in Syracuse, N.Y., that advocates for evidence-aligned instruction, said the organization is “cautiously optimistic” about the governor’s plan.

“These findings are not new, and we have yet to implement them fully to benefit our students,” the group wrote in a statement. The Reading League also cautioned that the science of reading isn’t exclusively about phonics, and encouraged state officials to “elevate the importance of other facets of evidence-based reading instruction in its messaging.”

Massachusetts

In her Jan. 17 State of the Commonwealth address, Healey introduced the Literacy Launch program, a 5-year plan to make high-quality reading materials available to districts, provide professional development for teachers, and mandate that teacher-preparation programs teach evidence-based instructional approaches.

“By every metric, Massachusetts has the best schools in the country. But I want to talk about an urgent issue that we need to address,” Healey said in her speech. The majority of 3rd graders did not meet expectations in English/language arts on last year’s state tests.

“That number reflects social inequities. It also reflects the fact that many districts are using out of date, disproven methods to teach reading, and our children are paying the price,” Healey said.

A recent Boston Globe investigation found that almost half of Massachusetts districts used low-quality reading curricula in grades K-3.

Maryland

The state’s board of education approved a resolution this week that will require districts to align all literacy instruction to the science of reading by school year 2024-25.

The resolution will also require the state superintendent to draft a comprehensive literacy plan, to review the state’s current literacy guidance, and to establish partnerships with teacher-preparation programs to improve their alignment to evidence-based practices.

Carey Wright, the state’s interim superintendent, has been at the forefront of the science of reading movement. She previously led the school system in Mississippi, launching an overhaul of early reading instruction, curriculum, and teacher training there a decade ago.

The Magnolia State jumped from second-to-last place in 4th grade reading scores in 2013 to the middle of the pack in 2019, a transformation some have called the “Mississippi Miracle.” States emulating Mississippi have copied key components of the approach in their reading legislation.

Wright, who entered her role in October, has said that she wants to do the same work to promote evidence-based practices in Maryland that she did in Mississippi.

Maryland’s former schools superintendent, Mohammed Choudhury, told the Baltimore Banner that the culture of local control in the state “has contributed to a hodgepodge of reading practices, from places where they are doing amazing things to places where they are committing malpractice.”

Indiana

Two bills in Indiana would alter the state’s reading policies, adding a 3rd grade retention requirement and extending support for struggling readers through grade 8.

SB 1, introduced by Republican Sen. Linda Rogers and 30 co-authors, would require schools to give the state’s 3rd grade reading test to 2nd graders, too. Students who fail the test in 2nd grade would be offered additional support, including summer school.

The bill would also require that 3rd grade students who did not pass the test repeat the grade, with some exemptions. This proposal has received pushback from educators, who have argued that the retention policy would put strain on 3rd grade teachers and could disproportionately affect Black and Latino students—without much educational benefit.

Third grade retention is a controversial element of many states’ early reading legislation, and the evidence on the practice is mixed. Experts caution that the policy is only effective if it’s coupled with additional support above and beyond traditional classroom instruction.

Another Indiana bill, SB 6, would require the department of education to develop a method for identifying students in later grades, from 4-8, who aren’t proficient in reading. Virginia passed a similar law last year.

Iowa

A bill introduced in the state would mandate that schools use evidence-based reading instruction and curricula beginning July 2026. It would also ban the use of cueing, a strategy that encourages students to rely on context clues to read words, rather than exclusively relying on letters. Experts have said that this approach can prevent children from consolidating their phonics skills.

Cueing bans have become increasingly popular over the past year—at least 11 states have prohibited the practice. Some educators criticize these bans, arguing that they rob teachers of the professional autonomy to make decisions about what will best serve their students.

The bill in Iowa has seen a similar reception, with educators saying that cueing can help certain students.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, also announced several reading initiatives in her Jan. 9 Condition of the State address. She highlighted a state partnership with Lexia Learning, a curriculum and training company, to provide professional development for Iowa teachers in evidence-based methods.

Reynolds also said that the state would require prospective teachers to pass a nationally recognized test to earn a credential to teach reading. Iowa is the only state in the country that doesn’t currently require elementary teachers to pass such a test.

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