Education, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

Senate Finance sends bill aimed at improving kids’ reading and math skills to full Senate

MORGANTOWN — The Senate bill to help ensure students are proficient in reading and math when they finish the third grade cleared its second hurdle on Wednesday, with the Finance Committee sending an expanded version to the full Senate.

SB 274 is called the Third Grade Success Act. Its overarching purpose is to develop a statewide, multi-tiered approach to reading and math education.

Teachers will be instructed in what is called the “science of reading,” incorporating phonics, phonemic awareness (the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in words), vocabulary, fluency (reading accurately, quickly and with expression), and comprehension. They will be expected to bring these skills to the classrooms to change how reading is taught.

Teachers will learn how to use approved screeners and benchmark assessments in K-3 classrooms to assess reading and math skills and identify such issues as dyslexia and dyscalculia — a math learning disorder — and conduct screenings three times a year in the classrooms. Students with identified issues will be provided intervention and assistance.

K-3 students and any fourth graders promoted for good cause with identified reading deficiencies must receive an individual reading improvement plan within 30 days after the deficiency is identified.

Children whose reading deficiencies are not corrected by third grade will be held back unless an exemption is met. This will begin for the school year starting July 1, 2026.

The bill details how families will be engaged in their children’s progress.

An important part of the bill will be the employment of ECCATs — early childhood classroom assistant teachers. ECCATs (pronounced e-cats) are paraprofessionals a step above teacher aides. They won’t just be making copies, it was previously explained in the Education Committee, where the bill was first approved.

ECCATs will be trained in the same reading and math education skills and principles as the teachers, and work alongside them in the classrooms. This will enable a move away from whole-group instruction to targeted, small-group instruction where it’s needed.

The bill requires classrooms in grades 1-3 with more than 12 students to have an ECCAT or aide, or a more-specialized interventionist. They will be in first-grade classrooms for the school year starting July 1 this year; in second-grade classrooms by July 1, 2024; and in third-grade classrooms by July 1, 2025.

Kindergarten classrooms with more than 10 students must have one ECCAT or aide.

The Finance version of the bill adds a provision that county boards must adopt high-quality instructional materials grounded in science-based reading research. Materials may not include practices aligned with the Three Cueing Systems Model of reading instruction.

Education Week explains that Three Cueing involves prompting students to draw on context and sentence structure, along with letters, to identify words. But it isn’t the most-effective way for beginning readers to learn how to decode printed text.

Education Week says research has shown that encouraging kids to check the picture when they come to a tricky word, or to hypothesize what word would work in the sentence, can take their focus away from the word itself — lowering the chances that they’ll use their understanding of letter sounds to read through the word part-by-part, and be able to recognize it more quickly the next time they see it.

The Finance version also adds a new section, called “Education of Exceptional Children,” dealing with dyslexia and dyscalculia. It covers staff guidance, screening tools, instruction and keeping families informed.

The bill referred to full-time interventionists and Sen. Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, offered an amendment adopted by the members to allow schools with no access to full-time interventionists to hire part-timers instead.

Apart from hashing out the amendment, there was no debate or discussion. During the amendment discussion, Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, commented, “I think this legislation is so needed.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp