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Colorado is using 2019 state law to instruct teachers on early reading programs

Catherine Hammond

A state law passed in 2019 brought two big changes that could boost the reading proficiency for many Colorado students

“About 60% of kids were not reading proficiently at the end of third grade,” Chalkbeat Colorado Reporter Ann Schimke said to KUNC Host Michael Lyle, Jr. “That had been stagnant for several years, and advocates were frustrated.”

Once the law passed, it set up a framework.

One of those changes was a requirement that all K-3 teachers take a training course on the science of reading — something many educators have said they were not taught in their teaching programs.

The second change put strict guardrails on the reading curriculums schools were allowed to use in early elementary school.

According to Schimke, the training teachers received was about 45 hours and equivalent to a college class. The program focused on teaching the fundamentals of early reading instruction, which is “essentially a large body of knowledge about how students learn to read.”

Prior to the 2019 law, Colorado, like many other states, had some popular reading programs that used discredited methods that instruct students to guess a word by looking at a picture or looking for context in a sentence.

“Both of those methods take students’ attention away from the actual letters in the word, and that’s the kind of thing that we readers do to figure out words,” Schimke said. “Strong readers use phonics, phonemic awareness, and they sound out the word.”

Teachers completed training in August or September, totaling about 20,000 completed courses, with the option of being able to take it online.

The program was free to teachers and was paid for by the state. However, since schools received COVID stimulus money, schools had extra funding to contribute to the program.

I don’t think that’s the end of the story,” Schimke said. “I think there’s other things the state can be focusing on and is kind of looking at in the future.”

I serve as the afternoon host for KUNC’s All Things Considered. My job is to keep our listeners across Northern Colorado informed on the day’s top stories from around the communities we serve. On occasion, I switch roles and hit the streets of northern Colorado digging up human interest stories or covering a major event that’s taking place in our listening area.