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Bill aimed at improving Iowa student literacy passes House

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Bill aimed at improving Iowa student literacy passes House

Apr 02, 2024 | 7:53 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
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Bill aimed at improving Iowa student literacy passes House
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The legislation would require schools to notify parents if their K-6 student is not reading at grade-level proficiency, and that they can request their child repeats a grade. (Photo via Getty Images)

The Iowa House approved a bill aimed at improving literacy rates for Iowa students, allowing parents to have their child repeat a grade if they are not proficient in reading and adding new educational requirements for teachers.

House File 2618 passed on a 92-3 vote Tuesday. The bill would require schools to notify parents or guardians of students in kindergarten through sixth grade who are not reading at grade-level proficiency, and inform them of their ability to request that their child repeat a grade. Students who are not meeting literacy benchmarks will be given a personalized plan to assist them until they are able to read at grade level.

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said many of the measures required by the bill are efforts teachers already take to improve literacy outcomes with students.

“Teachers watch out for kids that are not reading at grade level already,” Steckman said. “Teachers talk to parents already. Teachers put forth an (Individualized Education Program), or some sort of a plan for that student to get on grade level already. So much of this we’re already doing.”

She also praised the bill for being “toned down” from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ original proposal. When Reynolds brought up legislation at the beginning of session as a way to improve literacy rates in Iowa schools, she proposed requiring Iowa teacher licensure candidates in early childhood, elementary, K-12 reading and literacy preparation programs, as well as those in special education, to pass the Foundations of Reading assessment to graduate.

The passing requirement for teacher licensure was removed in a House amendment, but education program students would still be required to take the assessment, with results reported to the Iowa Department of Education.

The House bill also omits some of the prescriptions on reading instruction and literacy strategies present in the Senate’s version related to the teaching of phonics — teaching the sounds of letters to learn how to read — and banning certain literacy teaching strategies associated with rote memorization or contextual clues to identify a written word.

These measures were discussed in the context of the “science of reading” teaching methods that put a larger emphasis on phonics to improve young students’ reading and language abilities. Other states, including Mississippi, have seen improvements in national reading scores after adopting the approach.

Reynolds said in January that while Iowa did not see the drops in reading scores in recent years that other states have, “holding steady isn’t good enough” for Iowa students. The results from the 2022-2023 Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress showed that 34% of Iowa third-graders were not yet proficient in English Language Art skills. Studies have found that students not proficient at reading in third grade face greater difficulties with academics and in their personal life as they age.

Rep. Tom Moore, R-Griswold, thanked Reynolds’ office for working with lawmakers to come up with a “good compromise” on how to approach improving reading education for Iowa students. Moore agreed with Steckman on the bill’s provisions being strategies many Iowa teachers already employ — but said that it was important to ensure all students get more literacy support as needed.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t be in the middle of the pack nationally reading-wise if all of our teachers were doing some of these things,” Moore said.

The legislation heads to the Senate for further consideration.