Here in Illinois, it is a fundamental injustice that just 35% of 4th grade students are proficient or advanced readers. It starts early: students who do not read well by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school and six times more likely to drop out of high school if they are from a low-income family. Aside from the academic consequences, struggling readers are also far more likely to end up in the criminal justice system: over 60% of prison inmates and 85% of juveniles in the court system are struggling readers.
This is not a problem at the individual level or classroom level–this is a systemic problem. Its roots are at the top, with flawed curriculum being heavily marketed and selected at the district level.
Most states across the country have taken steps to help struggling readers, from improving educator preparation programs, to requiring evidence-based literacy curriculum and screenings, to funding literacy coaches and professional development in evidence-based instruction practices.
Dedicated advocates — parents, teachers, school psychologists, legal advocates, civil rights activists, and school administrators — have seen the impact of inadequate early literacy instruction and are working to change it. This diverse group of individuals and organizations want to improve public policy and funding so that all students have access to evidence-based literacy instruction and teachers have the support and preparation they deserve. The Illinois Early Literacy Coalition provides an opportunity for everyday people to network with other literacy advocates and collaborate to improve literacy policy.
Stand and the Coalition support the Illinois Right to Read Act, SB3900 (Lightford)/HB5032 (Mayfield), a bill that helps ensure students have equitable access to evidence-based literacy instruction and educators get the support and professional development opportunities they deserve. It makes an impact in three ways:
- Pre-service teachers would demonstrate their knowledge of effective reading instruction by passing a foundations of reading exam before earning their license.
- The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) would offer support to districts to adopt evidence-based literacy curriculum. This would include generating a list of evidence-aligned curricula for districts’ consideration and providing Early Literacy Grants to help pilot districts overhaul their curriculum and support their educators.
- Finally, ISBE would offer support to educators to improve their practice in literacy instruction. This could include development of a micro-credential, creation of a tool to help districts assess professional development opportunities, and development of state-level evidence-based literacy professional development modules available for free to teachers, administrators, and faculty at teacher preparation programs.