The text of the Alaska Reads Act includes a regulation that the Department of Education and Early Development should revisit considering data that suggests that the statewide literacy screener may not achieve its purpose: identifying students struggling to read and beginning intensive intervention as early as possible. The research shows that students who fail to read by age nine struggle in fourth-grade coursework and often never catch up to their peers, which makes identifying and beginning intervention quickly all the more urgent.
4 AAC 06.400 (b) states that “each school district shall assess all students in kindergarten through grade three each fall using the statewide screening tool as provided in AS 14.30.760.” Screening all K-3 students for reading deficiency in the fall of each year is good practice, as it is likely to identify students who had a reading deficiency at the end of the previous school year or lost progress during summer breaks. Students identified with a reading deficiency in the fall are given intensive reading interventions as required under 4 AAC 06.405 and must take winter and spring screenings to assess progress and measure growth.
However, 4 AAC 06.400 (b)(2) states that the initial fall assessment is also used to “identify students with sufficient reading skills, who are not required to take a winter or spring assessment.” This does not follow best practices established by states such as Mississippi and Florida, which have had astonishing success with their early literacy policies in part because they require screeners to be administered at least three times yearly. Florida requires screenings for K-2 students within “the first 30 instructional days of the school year (PM1), midyear (PM2), and within the last 30 days of the school year (PM3).” The Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national think-tank, notes that “Universal early literacy screeners should be administered three times per year with progress monitoring along the way for all K-3 students.”
All K-3 students should be administered the early literacy screener in the winter and spring, not only students identified with reading deficiencies on the fall screener. Tracking growth and regression remain important for students who may pass the screener in the fall but regress with a reading deficiency in the winter or spring. Students who are identified at any point — whether at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the school year — deserve to receive intensive intervention under 4 AAC 06.405 as early as practical after they are identified as reading deficient. Further, reporting requirements under 4 AAC 06.400 (c) should include the scores of all three yearly administrations of the literacy screener, not just the fall screener.
While many students will be identified through the required fall screener, the regulation as currently written risks allowing students to slip through the cracks if they begin to struggle within the school year, as districts are not required to administer winter and spring screenings to students who demonstrate sufficient reading skills on the fall screener.
The sources for the data cited above can be found at the end of this comment. Please consider what this research implies regarding the effectiveness of the Alaska Reads Act’s literacy screening provisions in achieving their purpose.
Education Policy Analyst
Alaska Policy Forum
“2022–23 FAST K–2 Fact Sheet.” 2022–23 Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (FAST) Fact Sheet K–2 Early Literacy, Reading, and Mathematics, Florida Department of Education, Dec. 2022, https://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/20102/urlt/2223FASTFactSheet.pdf.
American Federation of Teachers. “Waiting Rarely Works: Late Bloomers Usually Just Wilt.” Reading Rockets, Reading Rockets, https://www.readingrockets.org/article/waiting-rarely-works-late-bloomers-usually-just-wilt.
Benton, Kim S, et al. K-3 Reading Screener Guidance. Mississippi Department of Education, Apr. 2018, https://www.mdek12.org/sites/default/files/Offices/MDE/OA/OSA/Universal%20Screener%20and%20Diagnostic%20Assessment/20_21_irps_student_identification.pdf.
“Comprehensive K-3 Reading Policy: Fundamental Principles.” Foundation for Excellence in Education, 2023, https://excelined.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ExcelinEd.PolicyToolkit.EarlyLiteracy.FundamentalPrinciples..pdf.