An intro to the Alaska Reads Act
The state passed the Alaska Reads Act last year. It’s a set of programs meant to improve literacy education in kindergarten through third grade. KDLG’s Christina McDermott recently spoke about what this means for schools with Susan McKenzie, the director of the Division of Innovation and Education Excellence at the Department of Education. McDermott recently talked about what she learned with News Director Izzy Ross.
Izzy Ross: The state passed the Alaska Reads Act last June. Schools across the state are rolling it out this July. What exactly does this law do?
Christina McDermott: The Alaska Reads Act comprises a set of programs mainly aimed at improving reading for students in kindergarten through third grade. It also includes teacher training and data collection.
Susan McKenzie is a director at the state’s Department of Education. She outlined the purpose of Alaska Reads.
Susan McKenzie: “The overall goal of the act is to improve reading outcomes for our students in Alaska. And it addresses the Alaska education challenge priority one — that students [will] be proficient readers by the end of third grade.”
McDermott: Only some parts of the act are mandatory, namely the district reading intervention program, teacher training, and data reporting requirements.
The intervention program requires schools to give three short assessments to students in kindergarten - third grade throughout the year. Here’s McKenzie again:
McKenzie: “It truly is a screening. It's five to seven minutes. The state has adopted mClass by Amplify.”
McDermott: ‘mClass,’ the screening program, is an online tool developed by the University of Oregon that teachers use to evaluate a kid’s reading skills one-on-one. Dillingham actually piloted the program this spring.
Ross: What happens if the assessment shows the student isn’t reading at grade level?
McDermott: McKenzie said the teacher will create an individual reading plan for the student. That will include progress check-ins through the year. As part of the program, teachers will regularly update the student’s parents or guardians.
McKenzie: “So the parents know all along: here are the issues, here's what we're going to do. And each month, basically, they'll know the progress the child's making. We'll tweak the plan.”
McDermott: If a student is still not reading at grade level by the end of the school year, the teacher will meet with their parents or guardians to share their progress. The parents or guardians are ultimately the ones who decide if the students should advance to the next grade.
Ross: You mentioned teacher training before. Will teachers need training to run the mClass screenings?
McDermott: Teachers and administrators will need to either test or take a course on what McKenzie called ‘the science of reading.’
McKenzie: “The educator requirements of the Reads Act does call out for some proficiency [in] the science of reading – specifically phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and oral language.”
McDermott: If teachers choose to take the course, it will count toward their certificate renewal. McKenzie said that the state is looking to use Covid funds to pay for courses. Right now, the state has a $50 registration fee. If teachers took an exam, they would pay about twice that. Dillingham has already started teacher training.
The act’s final required component is reporting/data collection. McKenzie says that districts need to add information from the screeners and whether students went to Pre-K.
Ross: Are there any concerns about the required sections of the act?
McDermott: Well, at a recent school board meeting in Dillingham, board members discussed the amount of communication teachers will need to have with parents, especially for those who may require additional check-ins; that could be hundreds of messages and several meetings. Superintendent Amy Brower says teachers will stagger their parent meetings.
Brower: “So that two-thirds of the parents will get letters, and one third will get a meeting. And then the next progress monitoring…and a different one third will get a meeting.”
Ross: Good to know. Finally - what are the act’s optional parts?
McDermott: So there’s a Pre-K and Parents as Teachers program. McKenzie says this program has actually been around for years, and the act provides a stable source of income for it.
There’s also a virtual education program - that’s a collection of online lessons for students and teachers.
And finally, the act includes a department reading program. The lowest performing schools — the bottom 25% — can request help from the state in the form of a reading specialist.
Ross: Where can people learn more about the Alaska Reads Act?
McDermott: The Department of Education has a web page with details, including webinar recordings and an FAQ page. You can also reach out to the department with questions at (907) 465-2800 or email@example.com
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