Alaska Reads Act: Comprehensive Statewide K-3 Reading Program Unveiled
Edited By MARY KAUFFMAN
January 15, 2020
A person’s ability to read is a critical predictor of educational and lifelong success. A strong reading program, beginning in kindergarten and continuing into the third grade and beyond, gives students the best possible chance to maximize their education. Before third grade, students are learning to read. Beginning in fourth grade and beyond, a student must be prepared to read to learn across all subject areas.
“For the second year in a row, Alaska’s students ranked last out of all 50 states in grade four reading performance. In 2019, only 37% of Alaska’s grade three students were proficient in reading on the statewide summative assessment. Alaska is facing a reading crisis and we must insist on better educational outcomes for our children. Today marks a concerted effort, with bipartisan support, to provide our children with the best possible education by offering every opportunity to succeed in reading – a fundamental building block in every child’s education,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy.
Dunleavy said, “As a former teacher, principal, and superintendent, I have seen the many ways in which our schools shape our children’s lives, as well as the challenges our educators face. Alaska has bright spots and high performing schools, but there are also areas that need improvement—specifically reading. Our delivery of education services must be improved to ensure bright futures for all of Alaska’s children, and reading is the cornerstone.”
“By working together, Governor Dunleavy and Senator Begich have demonstrated that the importance of reading transcends political party. I am grateful for the character and dedication they have invested on behalf of Alaska's students,” said Alaska Education Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson. “Ensuring students read proficiently by the end of third grade was identified as a top priority by the State Board of Education and Alaskan stakeholders in the Alaska’s Education Challenge. The Alaska Reads Acts translates that priority into policy. I look forward to working with all Alaskans, including our dedicated educators, to effectively implement the Alaska Reads Act.”
Alaska Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) said, “The Governor and I have been working together to craft legislation that will provide our youngest Alaskans with an opportunity to succeed. We are still working on some provisions of the bill, but I believe that together we can develop a comprehensive early learning and reading policy that supports kids, and moves Alaska forward. Strong, quality, voluntary, universal pre-K with support through effective reading instruction in later grades is critical for Alaska’s youth.”
Begich said, “Some things are more important than our political differences, and the ability to educate our children is one of those things."
“This is a moral imperative for all Alaskans regardless of politics,” said Governor Dunleavy.
Results from the 2017 and 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rank Alaska as the lowest performing state in grade four reading, with only 25 percent of students performing at or above the proficient level in 2019. Alaska scored below the national average in grade four reading on NAEP for every year the test was administered since 2003. The Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools (PEAKS), Alaska’s summative assessment further showed that over 60 percent of grade three students scored below or far below proficient in English language arts between 2017 and 2019.
Governor Dunleavy, along with Commissioner Johnson and members of the Alaska State Legislature, have committed to addressing a pathway forward with a focus on measurable goals to increase student performance. The Alaska Reads Act addresses the need for high quality statewide early learning and reading programs to provide opportunities for lifelong success.
Alaska Children’s Caucus co-chair Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) said in a prepared statement, “There are a lot of issues that divide the members of the Alaska Legislature, but the one issue that brings everyone together is the education of our children," Representative Tuck said. “The research is clear that student achievement is directly linked to reading ability, especially in the first four years of school. The Alaska Reads Act is a good bill that will help students, which is why it has bipartisan support, including from me. I want to thank Senator Begich and Governor Dunleavy for their work on this important legislation, which the Alaska Children’s Caucus will thoroughly review.”
Alaska Senate President Cathy Giessel (R-Fairbanks) also released a prepared statement on the Alaska Reads Act, saying, “Childhood literacy is not a partisan issue. It's critical to the strength of our economy, the health of our communities and the endurance of our democracy. I believe this effort – spearheaded by Senator Begich and Governor Dunleavy – will make tremendous strides toward achieving universal literacy, a goal we all share as Alaskans.”
Alaska Senator Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer), chair of the Senate Judiciary, said in a prepared statement, “The Alaska Reads Act is incredibly significant policy that will impact the future of our state, most importantly the lives of Alaskans, but also the future of our economy, our state budget, and the vibrancy of our communities. I really don’t think I’m overstating this impact. Education is meant to be the great equalizer. It is only, however, if a child masters the objectives at each grade level and becomes a competent reader. Children who ‘learn to read’ proficiently by third grade are then able to ‘read to learn’ and master the objectives in the remaining grades.
“Successful passage of this reading policy will mean in 15 to 20 years we will have fewer adults in Alaska incarcerated, fewer on public assistance, fewer on Medicaid. Children who wouldn’t otherwise break out of poverty, will now have a whole new world of opportunities opened to them when they become proficient readers and excel in their schoolwork," said Hughes.
Hughes concluded her prepared statement saying, “I am thrilled and honored that there is bipartisan and bicameral momentum for passage of the reading policy that is in my SB 79 bill and now is in the Alaska Reads Act. I am hopeful we as a legislature will make progress on a number of fronts; however, if we do nothing else but pass this particular piece of legislation, we will know that we have done the right thing for our children in our state and will change Alaska future for the positive. Ensuring our children are mastering objectives at each grade level and becoming proficient readers by third grade will be a game changer in Alaska.”
The Alaska Reads Act includes these fundamental principles:
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