I am writing in support of SB 734, the Ready to Read Act. I am a special education attorney representing children in the special education process, and also a Baltimore County Public School parent. Every day in my job I hear from parents whose children are not learning to read in school. I personally had to purchase costly services outside of school to teach my own dyslexic child how to read because he was failed by BCPS.
I understand that some members of the EHEA committee have concerns about the costs associated with screening children for reading difficulties and providing evidence-based interventions to children who display reading difficulties. I heard the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) testify that they were concerned about just how many children school systems would have to screen and provide services for. I wonder which of the children MABE is worried about having to screen and teach do not deserve to learn to read? If those children needed ramps to enter a school building, would we question whether we should spend the money to buy ramps? The “ramps” many school systems are currently providing to help children learn to read are not working. They are failing. Only 43% of Maryland 4th graders are proficient in reading according to 2018 PARCC scores. But school systems want to continue to provide the same ineffective instructional methods that are currently failing, and they want to wait until the child has thoroughly failed to do it.
Costs to screen and intervene can be funded through existing sources – including existing literacy funding, Kerwin funding, and ESSA Striving Readers Grants. Title I schools have additional sources. Money is currently being spent on programs and curricula that are not working. This bill will ensure that school systems are instead choosing from among the many screeners and methodologies that are based on the science of reading. The funding is there. The issue is spending it wisely, which most school systems are not currently doing.
Additionally, costs of screening have been over-estimated. More realistic cost examples:
- Virginia received a rough estimate for screening using DIBELS from the University of Oregon. The cost purchase screening, professional learning and data collection for approximately 350,000 students was estimated at $435,000 per year ($1.25 per student)
- The Georgia Senate Office issued a report in December 2018 calling for mandated universal screening for students in Kindergarten. The Senate Study Committee’s most conservative estimate of the cost of a screener and implementation training is no more than $8 per student.
- Frederick County is spending $203,146 to train teachers in their new Acadience Reading screener.
This bill is NOT overly prescriptive. It does NOT tell schools systems what screeners to use, and it does not tell them what interventions to use. It simply says that they should use screeners and interventions that have research to support their effectiveness in all of the areas critical to early reading skills and instruction.
Lastly, the cost of NOT providing interventions in the early grades is far greater than the cost of doing it. Studies show that the amount of time and money that must be spent to remediate a struggling reader is exponentially more the older a child gets. Congress recently passed the federal First Step Act, which screens adults in prison. Waiting until young struggling readers turn into illiterate inmates is illogical, cruel, and considerably more expensive than remediating a first grader using research-based interventions.
Please issue a favorable report on SB 734, the Ready to Read Act.
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