Note: the letter below was written during the 2012 legislative session and is in reference to HB 12-1238, the Colorado Read Act. The bill was signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper on May 17, 2012.
According to national data, 8 to 10 percent of Colorado third graders cannot read a basic children’s book, such as Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, because they are functionally illiterate. As part of the business community in Colorado, we must take the initiative to change these statistics. Without significant help now, they will grow up to adults who cannot balance their checkbooks, fill out a job application or complete a health history for their child at the doctor’s office because they cannot read. They will not be able to function in today’s world.
The Colorado business community is broad and diverse, but there are constants for all of us. As business professionals, we bring the best talent we can find to forward our initiatives, ideas and projects and provide the best service we can to our customers. We use rigorously tested, research-based methodologies, and we don’t take new concepts to our customers until we know that they work. That is how business is done in Colorado.
In Colorado, we know that we have one of the best educated workforces in the nation, but we also know that we are not succeeding with our students: Our homegrown children are not being academically prepared. Studies show that the business community of tomorrow will be deeply focused in emerging technologies, and our children are not keeping up with their counterparts across the globe. At the rate we are moving, in 20 years, we will not have enough educated kids to keep up with the business technology demands. We need a workforce that can meet our expectations.
Colorado must take immediate steps to bring our literacy rates up. Students who can’t read in the fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, and high-school dropouts from the class of 2008 alone will cost Colorado $4.3 billion in lost wages over the course of their lifetimes. Colorado can’t afford to not teach our children to read.
We are focused on literacy in the primary grades because we know that children learn to read through third grade and, after third grade, they read to learn. Those children who haven’t learned to read by third grade will miss the critical transition into reading to learn in fourth grade and beyond. We cannot expect students to graduate from high school, much less succeed in college, when they can’t read the class schedule they are given in sixth grade. Colorado has had a focused literacy program since 1997, and it is clearly not working. It’s time to make a change.
We are proposing a strengthened early literacy program and we are asking the legislature to approve it.
This program will contain the following key points:
Beginning in Kindergarten, students who are at risk of being functionally illiterate in third grade will be identified and they will receive targeted literacy instruction to assist them in working toward basic literacy.
The parents of children who are identified as having significant reading deficiencies will be notified early in their children’s educational career. They will have an opportunity to be involved and will be encouraged to participate in their child’s reading instruction. If the student has a significant reading deficiency at the end of the school year in grades K-2, it will be recommend that the student should not advance to the next grade level. The teacher and parent will participate in making this decision.
If the student is identified in the third grade as having continued reading deficiencies, the school districts must consider investing an additional year in a student. If the student is finishing third grade, and the parent and teacher decide the student will advance to fourth grade even though the student has a significant reading deficiency, the decision is subject to approval by the superintendent of the school district.
A student who does not advance to the next grade level will receive increased reading interventions and supports to improve his or her reading competency and address his or her specific reading skill deficiencies.
School districts will track data on these students that will enable us to determine the success of these interventions. This data will be directly related to the accreditation of school districts and public schools.
Teachers and administrators will have access to the resources they need, based on the science of reading, to effectively assess students’ achievement and implement reading intervention plans.
We are asking you to sign on to this plan with us. We need to improve on our current literacy program that is failing many Colorado students. This improved program will provide incentive for parents, teachers, districts and the students to be engaged a students learning. This program will hold all of these stakeholders accountable to making progress.
Early literacy should be the priority of a K-3 education, and its success is a cornerstone to a well-educated workforce. As the business community, we have a responsibility to make sure that our workforce is best in class. Join us in this effort.
View the Early Literacy Act Fact Sheet
Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce. While the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Colorado as the second-most educated state in the nation, the next generation of students is at risk of falling behind our national and international competitors unless Colorado takes immediate steps to improve academic achievement.
Federal data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data ranks Colorado 42nd on 4th grade NAEP tests; 46th on 8th grade exams. Dropouts from the class of 2008 will cost Colorado $4.3 billion in lost wages over their lifetime, and even students that earn their high school diploma are struggling to remain competitive. Higher education institutions continue to spend $25.8 million on remediation of high-school graduates who are not ready for college-level math, science and writing courses.
Colorado’s teachers are professionals; skilled in their craft and critical to the success of the students who flow through their classroom. Data shows that effective teachers are the most crucial factor in a student’s success. They, along with administrators and parents, are pivotal in the future of our state’s students. Teachers and administrators must receive the training and support they need to be effective teachers and leaders.
The Chamber supports efforts focused on improving student achievement by increasing accountability and focusing resources on the programs that we know are most effective.
• Accountability and support for teachers and principals. Effective teachers and principals can make a tremendous difference on student achievement. SB10-191 – Principal and Teacher Effectiveness – will provide support and development for teachers and principals and will help to ensure that the right people are serving in these roles.
• Effective and timely implementation of new statutes. Legislation is a critical first step in improving Colorado’s educational system; however, success hinges on the implementation of new statutes. Rules and regulations that are adopted to implement legislation should uphold both the spirit and the letter of the law.
• Maximizing existing financial resources to use federal, state and local funding in the most cost-effective manner possible. Recognizing that there are fiscal constraints, this process may involve redirecting funding to effective programs and eliminating those that have failed to produce improvement in student achievement.
• Ending the practice of promoting functionally illiterate students from third to fourth grade. From Kindergarten to third grade, students learn to read. From fourth grade on, they read to learn. It is important that students have the tools they need to be successful from early grades through graduation.
• Targeting efforts to improve student achievement at the poorest performing schools. The state has a tremendous and unique opportunity to leverage significant federal funding to implement effective programs that will start to close the achievement gap.