New law will help kids learn to read

By Destiny Brandon
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia schools must provide extra help to students in kindergarten and first and second grades who do poorly on diagnostic reading tests, under legislation that Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law in recent weeks.

Schools already must offer reading intervention services to third-graders who demonstrate deficiencies on the state’s Standards of Learning reading test or other diagnostic measures. The new law, effective July 1, will add kindergarten and grades one and two to that requirement.

That is the result of McDonnell’s signing of two identical proposals that were passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly during its recent session: House Bill 2068, sponsored by Delegate Jim LeMunyon, R-Oak Hill, and Senate Bill 1171, introduced by Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Chesapeake.

“For kids who are in kindergarten and first and second grade, what’s going to change for them is they’ll be able to get special reading assistance,” LeMunyon said. “So they would maybe be tutored sometime during the school day on reading by a reading specialist. Right now, that’s only happening in third grade.”

The new law also states: “Local school divisions shall report the results of the diagnostic tests to the Department of Education on an annual basis, at a time to be determined by the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Each student who receives early intervention reading services will be assessed again at the end of that school year.”

State officials say there are indications that early intervention reading services already have improved student success among third-graders.

“In 2012, the General Assembly approved legislation proposed by Governor McDonnell that made the promotion of third graders who are not proficient in reading conditional on their receiving the remediation they need to improve their skills and read on grade level,” said Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education.

“While one year does not a trend make, the pass rate on the grade-three reading SOL test increased by two-and-a-half points last year.”

Reading intervention services include “special reading teachers; trained aides; volunteer tutors under the supervision of a certified teacher; computer-based reading tutorial programs; aides to instruct in-class groups while the teacher provides direct instruction to the students who need extra assistance; and extended instructional time in the school day or school year for these students,” according to the Virginia Department of Education’s website.

The new law will have little if any financial impact on the state, according to an analysis by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget. It noted that it’s now optional for school districts to provide early intervention reading services in kindergarten and first and second grades. The state provides $18 million a year in matching funds for schools to offer such services.

LeMunyon said reading intervention services are a practical matter.

“The idea is that everybody can read at a third grade level by the time they’re finished third grade,” he said.

The co-sponsors of HB 2068 were Republican Delegates David Albo of Springfield, Scott Garrett of Lynchburg, Rick Morris of Carrollton, Roxann Robinson of Chesterfield, Thomas Rust of Herndon, and Ronald Villanueva of Virginia Beach.

Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, joined Blevins in sponsoring the companion bill, SB 1171.

Reading intervention isn’t the only service mandated by the new law.

It also requires schools to “provide algebra readiness intervention services to students in grades six through nine who are at risk of failing the Algebra I end-of-course test, as demonstrated by their individual performance on any diagnostic test that has been approved by the Department of Education.”

Currently, algebra readiness intervention services are optional. The state provides about $11 million a year as its share of the cost to fund these services in grades seven and eight.

The new law will ensure that all students struggling with algebra in grades six through nine will get help.

“What we’re going to do is, if someone looks like they’re not doing well in algebra maybe in seventh grade, they’ll get that same small-group or one-on-one assistance to help them out, so that they don’t find out at the end of the class they’re not going to pass,” LeMunyon said.

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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