Let’s take a minute and think back to when we learned to read. Was it fun and challenging or completely miserable? Unfortunately for some of Colorado’s youngest learners, reading is a skill they struggle with and may never completely master.
The ability to read by the end of third grade is widely acknowledged as a critical milestone for students. In order to be successful in more challenging subjects, kids must have a strong foundation in basic literacy skills. Sadly, a large portion of Colorado's students are falling through the cracks. According to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 39% of Colorado fourth graders scored proficient in reading.
In an attempt to impact a greater number of students, we recognize the importance of starting with the very people who are responsible for teaching literacy skills. In Stand for Children’s March 2016 report,
we made three recommendations that will support educators who are responsible for teaching reading. Our first recommendation, which suggested the State Board of Education give guidance to college teacher prep programs about how to comply with Colorado’s standards around literacy instruction, has been adopted.
The State Board of Education is now determining how to update Colorado’s outdated teacher licensure exams to adequately measure their content knowledge. Currently, about half of Colorado’s teachers are trained in Colorado’s universities, while the remainder have moved in from other parts of the country. In order to teach in our state, educators must pass licensure exams. We would argue, however, that the ability to teach reading may be the most impactful. Thus, we want to ensure that elementary educators are adequately prepared to enter the classroom and teach this life-changing skill.
On June 9, the Colorado State Board of Education voted to approve Praxis licensure assessments and eliminate PLACE. The hope is that by strengthening the exams, the state will better capture data on teacher preparation programs and a teacher’s readiness to work in the classroom. Nevertheless, it’s important to point out that the current exams do not include a strong reading component and are not viewed as an accurate measure of the ability to teach reading. In order to address this concern, the State Board of Education directed the Department of Education to create a task force that will examine if they should adopt a stand-alone reading exam. This is aligned with our second recommendation in our READ Act report. We look forward to hearing the results that come from the task force.