Walz’s Bill on Reading Proficiency Unanimously Approved

July 18, 2012

The House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill filed by State Rep. Martha M. Walz entitled “An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency.”

The bill addresses a benchmark that strongly predicts children’s chances of academic success and will help ensure that children are proficient readers by the end of third grade.

“We applaud the House of Representatives for passage of An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency,” said Amy O’Leary, director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children. “Almost 40 percent of third graders in Massachusetts read below grade level, and too many of them will have trouble catching up. Research indicates that 74 percent of children who read poorly in third grade will continue to struggle in school.”

In arguing for the bill’s passage, Walz, the bill’s lead sponsor, said, “Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars we have invested in public education, the percentage of students who are reading proficiently in the third grade is all but unchanged in 10 years. We should not ignore the problem or keep it hidden in what appear to be encouraging achievements. To do right by our children, we should shine a spotlight on this and commit to change.”

The bill would establish an Early Literacy Expert Panel to advise the state and local school districts on five areas: language-rich curriculum, effective instructional practices, professional development and training, developmentally appropriate assessments and family partnerships. The panel’s work will focus on children from birth through the primary grades.

The expert panel, chaired by the Secretary of Education and an outside expert on children’s early language and literacy development, will help to streamline different initiatives and create a cohesive system that will directly help close the achievement gap by third grade.

The bill does not require new spending or mandate new programs. “It is both a moral and economic imperative that we act to improve the educational opportunities for our children in order for them to become well-rounded, productive members of society,” said Rep. Alice Hanlon Peisch, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education.

The bill is presently pending in the state Senate, which is expected to approve it this month.

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