Senate committee works on new reading program

JUNEAU — The Senate Education Committee heard a bill Friday that would establish a reading program for elementary school students with reading difficulties, an effort to have Alaska youth reading on an appropriate level by third grade that’s drawn opposition as too formulaic.

Senate Bill 107, sponsored by the committee’s chairman, Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, would establish a reading program for kindergarten through third-grade students in public schools. It also provides a system of accountability for school districts and parameters for establishing reading strategies.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said she had been receiving complaints about the bill possibly being “scripted” teaching, where reading teachers robotically follow set steps and phrases for instructing students who have reading deficiencies.

The measure requires school districts to place a focus on overcoming reading deficiencies and does not require teachers to follow a set script, said Susan McCauley, director of teaching and learning support for the Alaska State Department of Education and Early Development.

She said the bill adds speech as part of the literacy requirements.

“Whether a student is reading-deficient is not left solely to a teacher’s judgment, but will be a system-wide decision,” McCauley said.

The bill calls for spending $200,000 to make reading coaches available for school districts. The reading coaches would assist classroom teachers with the program. McCauley warned that funding may have to be increased to provide training for teachers in the state’s smaller districts.

Language in the bill calls for instructional teachers to have a high rating from their most recent performance evaluation.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, asked whether the program would trump teacher-district negotiated assignments. McCauley said the bill wouldn’t supersede those agreements.

The committee placed a date of July 1, 2016, for programs to be implemented by local school districts.

With the clock running down on the legislative session, both Stevens and Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, worry whether there is enough time to get the bill passed.

There is not a companion bill in the House.

The bill remains in committee.

SB 107: http://bit.ly/1iLk1UL

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