Thanks to Avoca D37, a state group will push for legislation to tackle the gaps in early literacy

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Avoca District 37 is the originator of the last priority of the Illinois Association of School Boards.

The IASB delegate assembly unanimously agreed on November 20 to support a resolution sponsored by Avoca D37 to strengthen reading education in Illinois.

The state-run organization will now pressure state lawmakers to draft legislation based on the resolution, which calls for prospective primary school teachers to be licensed to practice “reading methods.” scientifically proven ”.

Avoca D37 School Board Vice President Louise Dechovitz spearheaded the proposal and said the state’s reading problems were clear and fixable.

Avoca District 37 first submitted its resolution in 2020, but it was rejected by the IASB assembly. Decovitz said she was not discouraged and that the district worked with the IASB to reduce the text of the resolution and prepare it for the following year.

“The cost of not tackling this problem is enormous, because children who have difficulty reading have few opportunities in the 21st century,” she said. “It is essential for their lives, the success of the state and our democracy.”

In Illinois, only 37% of students in Grades 3 through 8 meet or exceed the state’s expectations for English and language arts, according to 2019 data from the Illinois Report Card. Data for 2020 was not available.

According to a national measurement by the U.S. Department of Education, fourth-graders in Illinois scored 218 on a 500-point scale, a number just below the national average (219) and just below the national average (219). above the state brand in 2003 (216). Among eighth-graders, the state score increased to 262, but this score was also below the national average (265) and virtually unchanged over 16 years (2003, 261).

Dechovitz and other officials at Avoca D37, as well as in districts statewide, believe the problem stems from the underuse of a widely accepted teaching method for early literacy.

Avoca Superintendent Dr Kaine Osburn said the “science of reading” is supported by a plethora of evidence and research, but is still not properly taught in college education programs.

The learning process has been supported by the US Department of Education for Reading Development, and 21 states require teachers to achieve some level of certification in reading science.

Osburn said Avoca sent each of their elementary teachers to train in the methods; However, he stressed that not all districts have the financial resources to retrain their teachers and said that properly training educators during their college programs is a fair solution.

“It’s not the fault of our teachers,” Osburn said. “Teachers are very good at maximizing the tools given to them to be successful. If they are not given the right tools, they cannot achieve everything that can be achieved. “

In short, the science of reading first teaches students to recognize letters and letter combinations by sight and sound. Then, students can “decode” words based on these combinations.

The opposite theory is “balanced literacy,” a holistic approach that theorizes that people learn to read by recognizing a word when they see it and understanding that the word is part of a larger idea, such as a word. sentence or paragraph.

Osburn said the whole language approach may work for intermediate readers, but learning to read the English language is more difficult than balanced literacy suggests and beginners need to understand the components for reading words first. on one page.

Decades of research on early literacy agrees with him, and he said the first stage of reading is crucial for development as students progress through school.

“If you master these basic skills, students are very proficient in reading, which means they become very confident in reading, which means over time, especially when they enter high school and you they ask them to read more and more. easier for them to manage, ”he said. “If you’re a person who has trouble pronouncing words… and I give you 200 pages to read per week, you’re going to experience it very differently from someone who reads in the blink of an eye.”

In Illinois, there are also racial and economic differences in reading skills. Black and Hispanic students score significantly lower than white students, as do students who qualify for the national school lunch program compared to those who do not, according to the Department of Education’s national tests. .

Dechovitz said this is a cycle that can be slowed down by proven literacy.

“The amount of time, energy and money that is required to help (students who have difficulty reading) catch up is extraordinary,” she said. “We have to learn to identify these children early on. We have a situation where so many children are struggling.

With the resolution in the books, Avoca will play its part in reaching out to local lawmakers to seek support. Decovitz said they hope Springfield can review reading legislation in the spring 2022 session.

She predicts that an obstacle to the measure’s adoption could be the teacher shortage in Illinois. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, more than 4,000 basic education jobs are vacant statewide, more than double the 2017 total (2,007).

But Decovitz said a reading science test would be a replacement, not an addition to the higher education curriculum, and she believes teachers deserve the most effective skills.

“Teachers pay a lot of money to get a degree and a license to teach,” she said. “When it comes to elementary education, teachers want the knowledge and skills to do the best they can for the children to whom they are so devoted. “


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