A member of the State Board of Education speaks on “The Science of Reading” in Avon

Colorado State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin spoke to a small group at the Avon Public Library on Friday about the “science of reading” and the state’s efforts to implement those ideas.
ScottMiller/Vail Daily

Educational trends come and go. “The Science of Reading” may be around for a while.

Colorado State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin was in Avon on Friday to give a presentation on the ideas behind the science of reading to a small group at the Avon Public Library.

Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale, represents the 3rd Congressional District, which this year includes only a small portion of Eagle County. She was invited to Avon by another Republican, Matt Solomon, who is running for the Colorado Senate in District 8 this year.

Rankin, who has a long career in elementary education, gave the group a brief history of the ideas behind the science of reading and an overview of what’s happening in elementary schools across the state.

Rankin noted that the science of reading is a method based on research and evidence to help young students read at or above grade level.

The state pioneered the idea with the 2012 Reading for Academic Development Act.

Rankin noted that the bill would give school districts money to create their own programs, but without any accountability parts. A 2019 bill co-sponsored by Rankin’s husband, state senator Bob, fixed that part.

By law, every teacher who teaches kindergarten through third grade must have at least 45 hours of instruction in the science of reading.

The Colorado Department of Education offers free training, and Rankin said some school districts pay their teachers for the time they spend training.

Rankin observed that there is no single provider of scientific reading instruction. But, she added, the program called “LETRS” is the “gold standard” in the industry.

Teachers had until August 1 to upload confirmation of completion of training. Bob Rankin, who attended the session, noted that about 17,000 of the state’s roughly 20,000 lower-grade teachers have met the requirement.

Joyce Rankin acknowledged that teaching children the scientific methods of reading can be difficult. Training requires 90 minutes a day.

“You’re constantly evaluating how each student is learning (or not),” Rankin said. “It’s not easy and it takes time, but the more you do it, the better you get at it.

Systems can include children reading to each other, as well as other, more fun activities.

“If we use it, we’re going to see a lot of changes,” Rankin said.

She noted that one of the state’s smaller counties implemented the program shortly after the READ Act was passed. These students’ reading scores increased in every elementary grade, including kindergarten.

Because the district has a stable enrollment, Rankin said state officials use the program as an example of how the system works.

Audience member Addison Hobbs asked Rankin about non-English speaking students.

Rankin responded that most of the research on reading is done in English. This means students “have to work really hard” to keep up.

Bob Rankin noted that the 2019 bill received the support of almost all political forces in the state.

Solomon said that the science of reading “is an example of how things should work if we put our boxes aside. . . . The rest of us can learn something here.”

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