Some CT school districts seek waiver from state reading program

[Connecticut Post] Some CT school districts seek waiver from state reading program

School districts in Milford and Shelton are seeking waivers to the state's Right to Read Act — and this might be only the beginning of what could be a line of schools planning to opt out of the state legislation.

The Right to Read Act, according to state education officials, is legislation designed to improve grade school reading curricula across the state. The legislation calls for $12.8 million to ensure that school districts where students are falling behind can hire reading coaches.

School districts are required to complete a survey stating if they intend to seek a waiver to the Right to Read Act by Dec. 16. 

Baked into the Right to Read legislation, despite some pushback from educators and parents during public hearings, is the establishment of a Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success at the state Department of Education that will oversee the reading curriculum for Connecticut students in grades PreK-3.

An advisory council within the new literacy center will ensure that school districts are using one of the five approved teaching methods by July 1, 2023.

Shelton is seeking the waiver in favor of its own reading program, "Wit and Wisdom," which school officials describe as "integrated and text-based" and with daily reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar and vocabulary study, all drawing off the text..

Thomas Scarice, Westport Public Schools superintendent, says they have not publicly discussed the waiver at the board level because they still have not received definitive guidance from the state.

"I believe it would be premature at this point," he said. "That said, we have a robust literacy curriculum, which has expanded and grown over the years to include elements identified in the legislation, but well beyond."

State education department spokesman Eric Scoville said the survey is not the district's final decision regarding which curricula or programs will be implemented by July 1, 2023.

"The survey results will assist in informing the ... planning for and distribution of ARPA funds that are designated for the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success and determine if other financial supports can be provided to assist districts with curricula and/or program implementation," said Scoville.

A concern Milford Public Schools expressed was that one type of literacy program might only meet some students' needs because each student is different.

Scoville said all the approved programs are comprehensive.

"They include high-quality materials that can help teachers ensure that students at all levels of proficiency and/or with disabilities can access grade-level content, engage in cognitively demanding tasks, and develop academic language in English," Scoville said. "They also include assessments, rubrics, and other resources to assist teachers in instruction."

The programs or curriculum rely on skillful implementations of teachers who need to consider their local contexts and unique student needs, explained Scoville. 

"Furthermore, using a comprehensive curricula model or program as the solid core of your instruction does not preclude the teacher or district from incorporating supplemental materials as necessary to meet the individual needs of a student or to support an area of instruction that needs additional time," he said.

The legislation states the commission can grant the waiver if it determines the local or regional board of education requesting a waiver has demonstrated that its own curriculum model or program is evidence-based and scientifically-based and focused on competency in the following areas of reading: oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, rapid automatic name or letter name fluency and reading comprehension.

"Additionally, per legislation, the waiver must include — A: data collected from the reading assessments that have been disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, eligibility for free or reduced-priced lunches, students whose primary language is not English and students with disabilities, and B: a strategy to address remaining reading achievement gaps," Scoville said.

If the waiver is not granted, the district must implement one of the five approved reading programs for the 2023-24 school year and each year after. However, Scoville said if a local or regional board of education has insufficient resources or funding to implement any of the reading curriculum models or programs, it can receive a time extension.