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Third Grade Success Act, other education bills passed in Senate and House

MORGANTOWN — The state Senate’s Third Grade Success Act topped a list of education- and child-related bills passed in the Senate and House on Tuesday.

SB 274 is the 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.

Senate Education chair Amy Grady, R-Mason, talked about the bill on Hoppy Kercheval’s “Talkline” on Tuesday morning before the floor session. Asked if teachers will embrace the science of reading approach, she said it’s been proven successful in classrooms. “Teachers that have reading backgrounds that I have spoken to have been pushing for this for years.”

The bill says 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 regular screenings. 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. 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, aide or interventionist.

The total annual cost to bring the extra help to the classrooms is estimated at $96.8 million from the third year onward.

A section covering “Education of Exceptional Children,” deals specifically with dyslexia and dyscalculia. It covers staff guidance, screening tools, instruction and keeping families informed.

Asked by Kercheval if she thinks the bill will make a difference, Grady said she’s been working on it since October. “I am extremely confident this is going to make a big difference.” Other states with similar programs have seen growth. It will take time, though — perhaps five to six years.

Senators approved an amendment regarding the timing of screenings. There was no discussion or debate and the vote to pass it was unanimous. It goes to the House, where a smaller bill focused just on dyslexia and dyscalculia, HB 3293, will be on second reading on Wednesday.

Other bills

The House approved HB 3302 unanimously. It makes DUI causing death or serious bodily injury of a fetus or embryo its own felony, apart from death or injury of the mother.

The bill is called Liam’s Law, in memory of Liam Sharp. His parents, Josh and Olivia Sharp, testified to the Judiciary Committee about their tragic experience.

Judiciary chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, and Delegate Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason relayed their story to the other delegates. Olivia was 27 weeks pregnant with Liam and was driving to work on I-77 when her car was hit head-on. The driver was intoxicated and was driving on a suspended license for DUI.

Liam died in the womb. His parents had just chosen his name two days before. Because there is no current law regarding the fetus as a separate victim, the driver was charged only with DUI causing serious injury to Olivia.

The vote was unanimous and the bill goes to the Senate.

HB 2005 would establish a four-year pilot program for high school students to take dual credit college courses where they receive credit at both their high school and the higher education institution.

Students would have to be enrolled in eligible courses leading to careers in designated career pathways: direct-care health professions; information technology; science, technology, engineering, construction and math (STEM) fields; education; advanced manufacturing; welding and fabrication; agriculture; “and any other program that meets a workforce need in the state as determined by the Department of Commerce.”

The vote was 98-0 and it goes to the Senate.

HB 3098 replaces the West Virginia General Summative Assessment with a statewide progress monitoring system that employs a formative assessment administered three times per school year — at the beginning, middle and end. Results will be disclosed to the parents or guardians.

The bill observes, “standardized testing as currently administered in West Virginia does not accurately measure a student’s grade-level performance, learning gains, academic progress, or college readiness.”

The state will submit results of the End of Year Assessment to the U.S. Department of Education in accordance with the requirements of federal law.

The vote was 87-10, with all the nay votes from Republicans. It goes to the Senate.

HB 3113 requires county school boards to provide an elective high school course in personal finance for one credit (two semesters) or one-half credit (one semester). While it will be an elective, every student must complete a course before graduation.

The vote was 94-4, with four Republicans voting no. It also goes to the Senate.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp