Comprehensive literacy policies = notable student gains

An analysis by the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) at Michigan State University found that states incorporating 16 best practices in their early literacy policies saw the largest sustained gains on achievement tests.

The June report compared early literacy policies in 41 states and the District of Columbia with state and national test results, discovering that comprehensive K-3 literacy policies and a third-grade retention mandate drive the largest increases in reading achievement.

The 16 early literacy policy components include:

  • Science of Reading Training
  • Literacy/Reading Coaches
  • Teacher Prep Program Alignment to Science of Reading and/or Science of Reading Assessment
  • Funding for Literacy Efforts
  • Universal Screener to Identify Students with Reading Deficiency (K-3)
  • Dyslexia Screener for At-Risk Students
  • Notify Parents of Students Identified with Reading Deficiency
  • District Adoption of High-Quality Instructional Materials
  • Individual Reading Plan and/or Intervention for Students with a Reading Deficiency
  • Monitor Progress Students with Reading Deficiency (K-3)
  • Intervention During Summer/Before, During, and/or After School Hours
  • Summer Reading Camps/Innovative Summer Reading Programs
  • Parent Engagement At-Home Reading Strategies
  • Statewide: Initial Determinant Retention at 3rd Grade Based on State Assessment
  • Multiple Options for Promotion
  • Good Cause Exemptions for Some Students

What this means for Minnesota

Thanks to the Read Act passed in the 2023 education omnibus bill, Minnesota checks a good number of the above early literacy policy components, including universal K-3 reading screeners, dyslexia screeners, literacy coaches, training, interventions, and parent at-home reading strategies, to name a few.

Evidence-based reading instruction is now a requirement for school districts, teachers, and the teacher preparation programs that prepare teacher candidates for the classroom. This statewide overhaul of literacy education will take several years to fully implement, but the hope is it will initiate much needed improvement in reading performance — over 52 percent of Minnesota’s third graders can’t read at grade level as measured by the state’s Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment, and fourth-grade reading scores on national assessments are the lowest they have been in 30 years and below the national average.

The science of reading is not directly named in the Read Act, but the Read Act’s definition of evidence-based instruction does name components that make up the interdisciplinary body of research on what matters and works in literacy instruction.

The Read Act also does not include a third-grade retention clause, which EPIC’s analysis and other research has found to have a positive impact in states that have incorporated it into their literacy model.

While many sounded the alarm long ago on Minnesota’s struggle to help students learn basic reading skills, it’s hopeful that the state is finally starting to prioritize ensuring that educators are teaching reading using effective strategies. As rollout of the Read Act takes place, it will be important to evaluate success and impact on student progress and consider additional ways to bolster the state’s early literacy policies.