This post is the second part of a four-part series detailing the implementation of the Alaska Reads Act. The first post may be found here.
The ability to read well by the end of third grade is critical for learning class material in fourth grade and beyond. Yet more than three-quarters of Alaska’s fourth graders were not proficient on the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Screening at the beginning of the year for kindergarten through third-grade students helps teachers begin interventions early for those with reading deficiencies and involves parents throughout the process.
The Alaska Reads Act, signed into law in 2022, has several requirements and options for districts to improve student outcomes. This article covers the intervention program, which is required for every school district. Yet having a process on the books for districts to follow does not guarantee it will be implemented effectively. The success of Alaska’s early literacy program depends on supporting teachers and administrators, students, and families as the program goes into effect in the upcoming 2023-2024 school year.
Early Literacy Screening
The Alaska Reads Act mandates that early literacy screening be conducted, at a minimum, for all K-3 students in the fall of each school year. Students who may be at risk of a reading deficiency based on the screener’s results begin receiving intensive interventions and must also take the screener twice more, in the winter and spring. It is optional for schools to administer the screener in the winter and spring to students who did not test at risk of a deficiency in the fall screener; it is also optional to administer the screener for students in fourth and fifth grades.
Regularly administering early literacy screenings helps to identify students at risk of reading deficiencies early, acting as a “first alert” that a student may need extra help to achieve grade-level standards. Information from early literacy screenings helps teachers tailor their instruction toward individual needs. Generally, the best screeners are universal but also look for dyslexia characteristics so that students who may have dyslexia can receive the specialized support they need.
Administering a universal screener for all students three times a year (fall, winter, and spring) is the best practice. Screening all students for deficiencies at the beginning of the school year is good, as it is likely to identify students who lost progress during summer breaks or had a reading deficiency at the end of the previous school year. However, screening remains important for students who may pass the fall screener but regress during the winter and spring, as they deserve to begin receiving intensive interventions as quickly as possible as well. The Alaska Reads Act’s minimum requirement for the screener risks allowing students to slip through the cracks if they fall behind mid-year.
Arizona and South Carolina have excellent universal screening and dyslexia policies. Arizona added dyslexia-specific screening legislation to its previous Move On When Reading legislation, and the state’s Department of Education provided an approved list of screeners that met their requirements. Schools administer their chosen screening tool to all K-3 students three times per year, which follows best practices for screeners. South Carolina developed a dyslexia handbook that serves as a resource for educators (as well as parents) to plan effective reading instruction and interventions for these students.
Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) will provide its chosen universal and dyslexia screener, mCLASS with DIBELS 8th Edition, free for districts statewide. Districts may apply for a waiver and provide evidence that their chosen screener meets DEED’s standards before April 15 of each year if they wish to use something else.
Individualized Reading Improvement Plans
After receiving the results of the universal screener, teachers, in collaboration with the parent or guardian of the student, create individual reading plans outlining the interventions the student will receive above and beyond regular reading instruction. Involving parents is critical to student success, and continued communication throughout intensive interventions will ensure parents are a major part of the instructional decisions made regarding their child.
Once the fall screener is administered, the Alaska Reads Act requires that parents of children at a high risk of performing below proficient are notified within 15 days. An individualized plan called an individual reading improvement plan (IRIP) is implemented within 30 days of the child testing deficient on the fall screener. Every year, districts must submit for approval the templates they use as part of their intervention plan, whether they choose to use DEED’s provided templates or not. These templates outline universal instruction practices and practices for those students receiving targeted or intensive interventions after a deficiency was flagged on the screener.
Parents are kept in continual contact with the teacher throughout the school year regarding their child’s reading progress. After parents are notified of their child’s reading deficiency and an IRIP is put into place, the Alaska Reads Act draft regulations require progress monitoring sessions every two to three weeks, with 10 progress reports sent home to parents throughout the year. Parents are encouraged as part of the IRIP to pursue “home reading activities.” The screening tool recommended and provided by the state makes it relatively easy for teachers to generate progress reports and get instant feedback about the child’s performance and areas of weakness.
Alaska seems to follow best practices regarding individualized reading plans. Michigan’s Read by Grade Three law requires an IRIP for all K-3 students behind in reading, prepared within 30 days of identification of the deficiency. Teachers are provided an online tool to help them create and track IRIP progress. North Carolina does largely the same, with teachers developing an individual improvement plan (IIP) for students struggling with reading. The notice is sent home to parents and includes the specific strategies that parents could use at home as well as directions to online resources that could be used. Connecticut involves parents by tasking the principal of each elementary school with notifying the parent or guardian of any K-3 student below proficiency in reading. The notice includes an explanation of why the student is below proficient and how a plan will be developed, including strategies for use at home.
The Alaska Reads Act outlines specific processes for teachers to effectively intervene and help struggling students catch up to grade level. DEED is providing a great deal of support to schools and districts in creating their intervention programs, including providing a screening tool at no cost to the district. While it is ultimately up to teachers to intervene and help the struggling students in their classroom, parents are involved in decisions and informed of their child’s progress. Professional development, teacher certification, and school support components of the Alaska Reads Act provide teachers and administrators with the network of support they need to successfully intervene to help their struggling students.
This post is the second part of a four-part series detailing the implementation of the Alaska Reads Act. The first, third, and fourth posts may be found here, here, and here.