Testimony Before the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee by The Right To Read CT Coalition
March 2, 2020
Executive Director, Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity
Re: H.B. No. 6517, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force to Analyze the Implementation of Laws Governing Dyslexia Instruction and Training
Chairmen Elliot and Haskell, Vice Chairs Flexer and Turco, Ranking Members Haines and Witkos, and Members of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of H.B. No. 6517. My name is Steven Hernández, and as the Executive Director of the Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity, I’m writing on behalf of the Right to Read CT coalition. We are a group of literacy and education advocates who are working together in support of legislation that would improve literacy and reading outcomes for Connecticut students.
We believe that every student has a right to read, and we know that there's a right way to teach them. However, for far too many Connecticut students, alternate, ineffective methods of teaching reading are being used, and they aren’t working. As assessment outcomes have shown us time and again, the failure to get this right has a broad impact on students across the state. Nearly half of Connecticut’s public school students aren’t meeting grade-level expectations in reading by third grade. The state’s data also show wide gaps in reading attainment by race, reflecting an ongoing civil rights injustice. And, as this legislation seeks to address, the failure of this state to use research-based methods for literacy instruction has a devastating impact on students who require specialized instruction, including those with dyslexia.
Reading is the foundation of all future learning, so a student who is not taught foundational literacy skills is likely to struggle across subjects and is also denied the opportunity to expand his/her knowledge and areas of interest through independent reading. We must support teachers and administrators by offering them professional development on cognitive and educational research about literacy, and by helping them to develop organized processes to support effective instruction, so that they can provide students with the evidence-based instruction they need to be successful.
To that end, our coalition aims to solve this problem by systemizing professional development for in-service educators, sharing knowledge about evidence-based, structured literacy instruction and interventions for students with reading difficulties, including those with dyslexia. At the same time, however, Connecticut must also require teacher preparation programs to include pre-service training for future educators that is aligned with the science of reading. That’s precisely what H.B. 6517 seeks to do. It would also require measures to screen for dyslexia, another concept we support because comprehensive assessments that identify literacy difficulties help educators to intervene once they are appropriately trained on the research of structured literacy.
Although the language of this bill is focused on the needs of students with dyslexia, the skills that educator preparation programs would impart to future teachers would also help them meet the literacy needs of all students along the continuum of literacy support and interventions. In other words, this pedagogy of teaching would drastically improve outcomes for students with dyslexia, and it would serve all other students at the same time. This bill is an important step forward, along with the legislative effort known as H.B. 5794 - An Act Concerning A Right to Read, which we are supporting this session to assist all learners. We stand behind both.
There is long-term consensus among cognitive scientists and educational researchers about the correct way to teach literacy skills. Now, it’s just a matter of supporting teachers by giving them the tools to lift up all students. We urge you to support H.B. No. 6517.