Education Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-5350

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING ACHIEVING UNIVERSAL LITERACY BY GRADE THREE.

Vote Date:

3/14/2012

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute Change of Reference to Appropriations

PH Date:

3/5/2012

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Rep. Gary A. Holder-Winfield, 94th Dist.
Rep. Roland J. Lemar, 96th Dist.
Sen. John W. Fonfara, 1st Dist.
Rep. Mary M. Mushinsky, 85th Dist.
Rep. Jason Rojas, 9th Dist.

Black and Latino Caucus

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill seeks to address and rectify the growing achievement gap in the state of Connecticut by drastically improving the percentage of students who are able to read at their grade level. This bill is specifically targeted at low-income, African-American and Hispanic/Latino students, because based on the results of the 2011 CMT, only one-third of these students performed at grade level, in addition, nearly half of them scored Basic or Below Basic on the 2011 Reading CMT. The bill hopes to achieve this goal in a variety of ways. First, it requires the State Department of Education to monitor districts that over-identify minority students as requiring special education due to reading deficiencies. Second, it requires a number of new polices and programs to be implemented by July 1, 2014; (1) it requires the State Department of Education (SDE) to develop a statewide plan that will focus on improving reading scores for children in grades K-3; (2)The bill also requires that each school district develop and implement a district reading plan and that they annually monitor its implementation; (3) school districts must provide supplemental reading instruction for K-3 students who were found to be substantially deficient in reading based upon their reading assessment test scores. They must also develop a reading remediation plan for such students and notify the students parents; (4) The SDE will also be required to, develop or approve a reading assessment test, in order to identify K-3 students that are reading deficient; and (5) it requires that the Commissioner of Education develop incentives for teachers and schools. Next, the bill requires students who do not achieve a satisfactory score on the Reading CMT, which will be given in grade 3, to go to a summer school reading instruction program. Also, during the school year, each district be required to offer intensive accelerated reading classes in order to improve the performance of students who are found to be deficient readers. Students, who do not achieve a satisfactory score on the Reading CMT, must be held back from promotion to grade 4 (with certain exceptions). Furthermore, the bill requires that school districts give transitional instruction, to those students who do complete the summer school reading program, but who still fail to achieve a satisfactory score on the grade 3 Reading CMT, if they are not promoted to grade 4. The bill also establishes a number of new requirements for teachers and individuals who are looking to pursue a career in teaching. It requires that all certified employees, working in grades K-3, pass a State Board of Education approved reading instruction exam. Those employees who fail to pass this test will be required to receive 5 hours of continuing education in reading instruction and then must retake the exam. If they fail again to pass the test once again, they must be reassigned to grades other than K-3. Certified employees with elementary endorsements now will be required to have 30 hours of continuing education in reading instruction every five years as opposed to 15 hours. Lastly, the bill requires that the Commissioner of Education create a professional development program in reading instruction for teachers and annually review the program.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Commissioner Stefan Pryor, State Board of Education expressed his support for H.B. 5350 and called it “a bold initiative.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Elaine Zimmerman, State of Connecticut Commission on Children expressed support for H.B. 5350 and praised it for aligning both state and local needs and also for promoting accountability at the state and district levels. Ms. Zimmerman did offer a few recommendations to the Committee on additions that would be needed in order to ensure that the bill succeeds at its goal of closing the achievement gap. She urged the state to include “more intentional training in oral language and development and practice for early care and education teachers,” because “many providers do not know how to maximize the preschool or infant toddler rooms with language development through developmentally appropriate conversation, play, song, and use of books.” She argued that this modification should be incorporated into the text of the bill because the achievement gap “starts in the early years before kindergarten.”

Frank Sykes, African-American Affairs Commission spoke in support of H.B. 5350 because according to the Connecticut Department of Education, since 2006, Connecticut Mastery Reading Test Scores for African-American children at the 4th grade level have consistently been 20 percent lower than the state average. He stated that “once a student is this far behind at the 4th grade level, special intervention must be provided if that child is expected to perform at grade level,” and “studies indicate that it is very difficult to correct this reading beyond the 4th grade” because by this time, “elementary school teachers do not have the training to correct the students' reading deficiencies.” Mr. Sykes did, however, express feelings that the bill is “not far reaching enough” because it fails to address the topic of parental involvement. He argued that processes should be implemented so that schools “can work around a parent's schedule” because “for many low income minority families, the lack of time, resources and conflicting schedules prevent many from maintaining active enjoyment in their child's academic development.” Nonetheless, he supports the bill because it “at least seeks to put measures in place that should offer further examination of the correlation between teacher training and reading and how it impacts the misplacement of students in special education.”

Dr. Reginald Mayo, Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools, expressed his support for “much of H.B. 5350;” however, he raised concerns over some provisions of the bill, specifically, Sections 1(10) 1(13), 3(12), 8(b)(2), and 18 which create additional interventions but do not provide school districts with any funding for them. He stated that New Haven School's have been “doing more with less,” but that they have already begun to cut back on staff and efforts to improve their curriculum because they do not have sufficient amount of funds as it is. He stated that, while these interventions are good ideas and policies, the school system would not be able to successfully implement them without more funding from the state.

Julia Case, Captiol Region Education Council stated the CREC supports H.B. 5350 because in Connecticut, “there are far too many children who are not reading at the proficient level in the third grade.” She stated that this problem directly “affects out state's economy and the ability of our towns to grow and prosper.”

Bet Gailor, Connecticut Legal Services stated that CLS “wholeheartedly” supports the passage of H.B. 5350 because it addresses the reading crisis that currently faces the state in the “most comprehensive” way. He said that passing this bill will go a long way in alleviating the achievement gap in Connecticut and that it will give children the “chance to grow out of poverty.” Furthermore, he said that the bill will “improve learning outcomes in our middle and high schools, because fluent readers can master curriculum content far more easily than students who can't read on grade level. Mr. Gailor did, however, urge the committee to consider a few amendments to the bill. He urged the committee to amend Sec. 1 by replacing the phrase “coordinated state-wide reading program for students in kindergarten to grade three,” with “coordinated state-wide reading plan or framework,” because he felt that term “reading program” was a “term of art.” Second, he suggested amending Sec. 8(b)(2) in two ways. First, he asked that the bill give a definition of “transitional instructional setting,” and second, he called for the section to stipulate that “if a student is not making progress after the intensive accelerated reading class, the local and regional boards of education must refer that student for a special education evaluation, to identify whether a child has a specific learning disability.” Mr. Gailor also called for the term “special diagnostic information” in Sec. 8(d)(2) to be replaced with the term “special education evaluation.” Lastly, he proposed that Section 8(d)(1) be amended so that students who have been identified as having specific learning disabilities are not exempt from the statute's retention requirements because excluding these students from the statute's retention requirements would “be inconsistent with IDEA 2004.”

Jennifer Alexander, ConnCAN (Vice-President of Research and Partnerships) stated that ConnCAN supports H.B. 5350.

Patrick Riccards, ConnCAN praised H.B. 5350 as a “necessary step forward to ensuring all Connecticut students posses the literacy skills required to succeed in both school and life.” Mr. Riccards pointed out that according to the State Board of Education, only one-third of low income, African-American and Hispanic/Latino fourth grade students performed at grade level on the 2011 CM. This is compared to three-fourths of White and non-low income fourth graders. In addition, nearly half of all low-income, African-American and Hispanic/Latino fourth grade students scored Basic or Below Basic on the 2011 Reading CMT, while only fifteen percent of White and non-low income fourth grades score Basic or Below Basic. Mr. Riccards and ConnCAN believe that “H.B. 5350 makes it clear that we do not have to accept these statistics as destiny.”

Jule McCombes-Tolis, Ph.D, Saint Joseph College of Education shared her support for H.B. 5350 and labeled it as a “critically important piece of proposed legislation.” She also urged the Committee to add language to the bill that would ensure that student with disabilities are “afforded the opportunity to receive adequately intensive, individualized, scientifically-based reading interventions in the context of pull-out special education settings with adequately supported special education interventionists. She felt that this language was needed in the bill because “too often children with identified disabilities that impact their reading profiles are not provided with adequately intensive special education remedial reading interventions.

Rae Ann Knopf, Connecticut Council for Education Reform spoke out in “strong support of H.B. 5350. She said the CCER “wholeheartedly support[s] the fact that this bill addresses current results-based methodologies for teaching reading while providing the necessary structure for closing gaps in reading proficiency at a systematic level. She said that this bill goes a long way in reducing the number of minority students that drop out of high school, which currently sits at 40 percent. By focusing on the early years of a students learning, she said that we will “get closer to graduating a student population that is knowledgeable, confident and ready for future employment or citizenry.”

William A. Wenck, J.D., Ph.D testified in favor of Section 12 of H.B. 5350. He expressed support for the proposal to add language that would require an increase in the hours of training that prospective teachers would receive on the subject of teaching reading. He stated that additional time would expose prospective teachers to the “latest proven approaches to reading instruction.” He also supported the addition of the language that “[s]uch training shall be based on scientifically-based reading research approved by the Department of Education,” because the requirement that districts use “scientifically-based” approaches would be “critical” in ensuring improved reading instruction in the state. Lastly, he expressed that he supports this bill because “the cost of not addressing the problem of effective reading instruction not only affects the taxpayers but also society at large” because “studies have shown that large percentages of the incarcerated population are not literate” and, therefore, “improving the rate of literacy will reduce the rate of incarceration.”

Bob Mitchell, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Inc expressed their strong support for H.B. 5350, but also stated that in order for the bill to be a success, “it will be imperative that resources be made available at the State Department of Education and at the local level.”

Margie Gillis, Ed.D., Literacy How, Inc. stated that she supported H.B. 5350 because “if a minority student doesn't learn to read by third grade, there's a very good chance s/he will land in jail” and “this bill goes a long way toward ensuring that doesn't happen.” She identified three important components of the bill. First, she praised the alignment between the Common Core state Standards and the reading assessments that the bill recommends for universal screening and progress monitoring. Second, she praised the bill for holding school districts responsible “for reading plans at the school” Third, and most importantly, she strongly supported the bliss language that requires teachers to learn “the science of teaching reading.”

Louis W. Bach, Connecticut Business and Industry Association, supported H.B. 5350, because “It is well known that by grade three, student learning is predicated on the ability to read, and If a student is not reading at grade level by this time in his or her school career it becomes increasingly unlikely that they will ever catch up to their peers” He further said that, the state, by “adopting a research-driven state reading program, that includes early identification and intervention for children who are reading deficient, will substantially help students who – through inadequate reading instruction – begin to fall irreversibly behind after the third grade.”

Sharon M. Palmer, AFT Connecticut, expressed her support for H.B. 5350 and called it an “extremely critical, key initiative to close the achievement gap.” She also urged the Committee to include the “resources necessary” to make the bill a success.

Marilyn Scanlan White, stated that she supports H.B. 5350 but that she would like to see a few additions. She urged the Committee to include language/vocabulary development for needy children from “birth to age three,” because “studies prove that the earlier we reach children, the easier it is to prepare them so that they are ready to learn to read by five years of age.” She also suggested that the bill should require that schools bring in physicians and nurses to provide health checks on students and note their language development of children. Furthermore, “Children who are not progressing in language development should have a literacy specialist assess and recommend additional instruction for parents. She also asked for the bill to contain a requirement that that would require a person who wished to receive a certification in Early Childhood to take 12 credits in reading and language arts instruction. Ms. White also asked that the bill contain language that would require schools to have at least one Literacy Specialist/Coach who can “teach, remediate, and lead classroom literacy programs.” Lastly, she requested that the bill contain an amendment that would require Children who are found to be deficient in reading at the end of grade three be placed in a transition grade three program.

Maggie Adair, Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance expressed the organizations support for H.B. 5350, specifically the bills inclusion of curriculum alignment, year-end transition planning, using data to track student performance, and parent engagement.” They did, however, state that the bill should be amended to go even further by incorporating these policies at the pre-k level. The Alliance also recommended that a “pre-literacy course be designed and implemented, leading to an approved degree as outlined in P.B. 11-54.”

Sarah Esty and Cyd Oppenheimer, J.D., Connecticut Voices for Children expressed strong support for the “goals” of H.B. 5350. They felt that one of the most important sections of the bill was the section that included research-based training for teachers working with children birth to five. They also urged the committee to amend Section 1 of the bill, which is currently targeted only at children in kindergarten through grade three, to include preschool, year-end transition planning for students and tracking of student performance data from year-to-year. They also strongly supported the inclusion of parental engagement provision in the bill because “parents are children's first and most important teachers.” Once again, they urged the committee to amend these provisions (Section 1(6) and (8)) to include preschool age children as well. Lastly, they stated that they hope that the committee would consider including language in the bill that would ensure that “assessments of children and curricular changes be developmentally appropriate, particularly for younger children. They felt that adding this amendment to the bill would be important because “assessments that include physical, social, and emotional metrics, in addition to, academic measures will help ensure that activities targeted towards development of the full range of areas remains a priority.

Jillian Gilchrest, Connecticut Association for Human Services stated that CAHA supports H.B. 5350 because “children need the opportunity to succeed regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or primary language, and ensuring that children are reading at grade level by 3rd grade is an important step towards closing our state's achievement gap and improving outcomes for children.” She expressed strong support for the bill's inclusion of workforce development, parent engagement and curriculum alignment, but did add that CAHS “would like to see this committee include preschool in the proposed curricular alignment and year-end transition planning for students and tracking of student performance data from year-to-year.”

Susan Santora, Learning House LLC strongly recommended that the Committee pass H.B. 5350 because it “Connecticut has the largest achievement gap between suburban and inner city schools than any other state in the nation” and its jails “are full of individuals who have very low literacy levels.” She argued that by passing the bill, the Committee “will help to close that gap and most likely decrease the number of inmates in our correction facilities.”

Mary Loftus Levine, Connecticut Education Association expressed support for H.B. 5350 and labeled it as “long overdue.” She did express concern over some aspects of the bill. She stated that “potentially retaining a child for multiple years, mandating summer school, creating more tests, not being specific about standards for teaching credentials, and demanding that all teachers pass a test while not defining training necessary to pass them are all counter productive strategies to the very goals this bill seeks to achieve.” She urged the Committee to amend the bill so that it offers “a more collaborative approach.”

Roch J. Girard, Connecticut Federation of School Administrators announced his support for the “intentions” of the bill but raised skepticism that the money allocated for the implementation of the bills programs and policies was enough to be “sufficient” in achieving its goal of universal literacy by grade three. He also offered criticism of the section of the bill that calls for a child who does not achieve a satisfactory test score on the reading component of a state-wide mastery examination to be retained in grade three. He stated that research has shown that retention of students is a “negative experience for the child.” He urged the Committee to amend the bill to include a “more intensive approach at remediation efforts and alternative instructional strategies” in grades kindergarten through third. He offered support for the portion of the bill that requires 30 hours of teacher reading education training and at least 6 semester hours of reading education training for teachers that plan to go into early childhood education.

Sheryl Knapp, M.Ed, Literacy Advocates expressed her “strong support” and appreciation for the “depth and scope” of the bill. She urged the Committee to also “consider the needs of children with more significant disabilities whose literacy needs frequently cannot be met in the general education context,” specifically those with dyslexia and other language based reading challenges, intellectual disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. She stated that research and “her own professional experience” has proven that “these children often can achieve age-appropriate literacy goals, but not without intensive, systematic, individualized evidence-based instruction delivered by a teacher who is well-trained in delivering this type of intervention.” She closed by urging the Committee to “consider adding more specific language to ensure that all students have access to the intensity and quality of instruction needed to achieve their literacy goals.”

Christine Garber, Reach Out and Read expressed her support for H.B. 5350, but stated that they feel that “in order to achieve universal literacy by grade three, we [the state] must begin at birth with high-quality early care and education.” She implored the Committee to amend the bill to include provisions that would support programs that promote “literacy from birth, rather than starting at kindergarten.”

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Connecticut Conference of Municipalities expressed their opposition to H.B. 5350 not because of its policy goals, but rather, because it “would add yet another unfunded state mandate on school time, school curriculum, school staffing, and school resources.”

Middletown School Readiness Council, expressed opposition to H.B. 5350, even though it “compiles important strategies fro improving literacy” because “the most important set of strategies are missing – those that address literacy from birth to age five.” They stated that “starting in kindergarten is simply too late –because the preparation gap has already begun.” They also encouraged the Committee to “include a high-quality course in developing young children's oral language and literacy skills to be included in the Early Childhood Teacher Credential outlined in P.B. 11-54.”

Reported by: David A. Giglio

Date: March 16, 2012