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### Comprehensive Education Reform in Kansas: Integrating the ‘Science of Reading’ into the Blueprint for Literacy

Using technology to instruct literacy will soon become mandatory in Kansas schools, as well as for training new educators in Kansas teacher’s college programs.

The bill, which received overwhelming bipartisan support and is expected to be signed by Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, not only codifies the evidence-based method into state law but also establishes ambitious targets for enhancing student achievement. It also introduces a new 15-member Literacy Advisory Committee and appoints a “Director of Literacy Education.”

Furthermore, the legislation mandates the creation of regional Centers of Excellence in Reading.

Dr. David Hurford, the director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Awareness of Dyslexia at Pittsburg State University, who played a key role in drafting the bill and is a staunch advocate for the science of reading, expressed his enthusiasm.

He stated in a recent phone interview, “What makes this bill exceptional is its holistic approach to addressing the issue of reading difficulties. It truly embodies the knowledge we have acquired through scientific research and can be applied to assist children in becoming proficient readers.”

Oversight by Literacy Advisory Committee to Drive Progress

The bill sets forth some of the most ambitious literacy targets nationwide, requiring that by 2030—just five years after the bill’s implementation—100% of elementary teachers in Kansas attain a micro-credential in the science of reading and structured literacy. Additionally, it aims for at least 50% of 3rd through 8th graders to achieve level 3 or above and at least 90% of Kansas 3rd through 8th graders to reach level 2 or above on the English language arts state assessment by 2033.

The 2023 state assessment revealed that 32% of students in Grades 3-8 are reading below grade level (Level 1), 33% are at grade level but still require remedial training (Level 2), and 34% are proficient (Levels 3 and 4). To meet the established goals within a decade, only 10% should be below grade level, 40% should be at grade level and in need of remedial training, and 50% should be proficient.

To achieve these targets, the bill establishes a 15-member committee, including the director, who will be appointed by the executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents. The committee comprises representatives from state universities, community colleges, the governor, members from both chambers of the Kansas Legislature, and an expert in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) for four-year terms. The committee is required to provide annual progress reports to the legislature.

Pushback from State Board of Education on Accountability Measures

While the education sector offered qualified support for the bill, they sought to reduce accountability measures. Kansas State Board of Education Member Ann Mah, who testified on behalf of the State Board, advocated against oversight by the committee, claiming that the Kansas State Department of Education already has staff responsible for monitoring literacy training for in-service teachers.

Leah Fliter, assistant executive director for advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards, objected to specifying the details of the Kansas Assessment program in statute, suggesting that the bill’s objectives could be better achieved by describing the desired outcome more generally.

Embracing the Science of Reading

The science of reading represents a proven and comprehensive approach to literacy instruction that benefits nearly all learners, enabling them to unlock the foundations of written language.

Hurford explained, “Reading is a complex process. While speech acquisition is innate and wired in the brain, reading is not. Neuroscientists describe reading as ‘neurological recycling,’ utilizing brain regions for a purpose they were not initially intended for. Therefore, teaching the code is essential.”

The bill mandates that all teachers, and consequently all students, learn:

  • Phonological & Phonemic Awareness
  • Reading
  • Vocabulary
  • Writing
  • Punctuation Symbols

These fundamental components closely resemble the phonics instruction that previous generations relied on to learn reading in elementary school. Despite the simplicity of these elements, alternative strategies adopted in recent decades have largely failed, with over a third of fourth graders struggling to read proficiently and nearly 93 million adults lacking adequate reading skills.

SB438 unequivocally prohibits school districts, after July 1, 2025, from utilizing textbooks or instructional materials that center on:

  • The three-cueing system model of reading for word recognition
  • Visual memory for word recognition
  • The three-cueing system model of reading based on meaning, structure, syntax, and visual cues

The bill also allocates $10 million for training current teachers in the science of reading.

Hurford commended the bill’s comprehensive nature, emphasizing the collaborative efforts of various educational stakeholders to ensure children’s success in reading. He expressed confidence in the bill’s potential to serve as a model for other states seeking to enhance literacy outcomes.