Del. lawmakers aiming to improve reading instruction in elementary schools

DELAWARE – One Delaware lawmaker is working to make sure students are learning to read in the best way possible. Senator Laura Sturgeon calls it the science of reading.

“Evidence based reading instruction is reading instruction that is based on decades of work in cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology,” said Sen. Sturgeon. “What we’ve learned is that the brain learns how to read when explicitly taught how to read using phonics instruction. You need to be able to recognize the graphemes – the letters – and the phonemes – the sounds – that those letters make.”

Building Literacy

In 2021, the Delaware General Assembly passed Sen. Sturgeon’s Senate Bill 133, requiring colleges and universities to instruct prospective teachers in the use of phonics-based reading instruction. “Senate Bill 133 was the first step into where we wanted to be. That ensured that all teacher preparation programs in the state of Delaware would prepare their K-5 teachers, reading specialists, and Spec-Ed teachers to teach reading according to the science,” she said.

However, the Senator says the bill only captured prospective teachers coming out of Delaware’s higher education institutions. So, this year she is introducing Senate Bill 4. “Senate Bill 4 is meant to capture all those other teachers who Senate Bill 133 would not capture. Those are teachers who are in the classroom already and/or didn’t go through a Delaware teacher preparation program,” said Sen. Sturgeon.

The science-based teaching methods are not just restricted to one curriculum. “[The bill] asks DOE to keep a curated list of curricula for grades K-3, that is aligned to the science of reading, that the school districts would have to adopt from,” said Sen. Sturgeon.

The bill would also allow for school districts to apply to add their own curriculum to the list, if they are already following the methodology.

Reading Is Fundamental

Sen. Sturgeon says improving reading instruction is an immediate need in Delaware’s classrooms. “Currently, we have a really abysmal rate of proficiency. Even by fourth grade, we have only 51% of our students reading at or above grade level,” she said. “With the adoption of the curriculum and the training that the teachers undergo, we should be able to get to the point where all of our young learners are able to read on grade level by the end of grade three.”

Plus, the Senator says proficient literacy can have lifelong implications for Delawareans. “Reading is such a fundamental part of living, of living well. The adverse experiences that students who can’t read on level experience throughout life just compound on one another,” said Sen. Sturgeon. “If you’re not literate, or if you struggle to read, it’s very difficult to participate in society. It’s difficult to get a good job, it’s difficult to participate in democracy.”

Action In Legislative Hall

Senate Bill 4 comes as part of a legislative package being bolstered by other lawmakers. Representative Kimberly Williams is sponsoring a bill in the House that would require regular screenings on kindergarten through third grade students. The screenings would assess where their reading level stands, and if it needs improvement.

Sen. Sturgeon says the earliest date the Senate Education Committee would hear Senate Bill 4 would be on April 6th. If the bill makes it out of committee, Sen. Sturgeon says she’s hoping for a floor vote the following week.

Categories: Delaware, Education, Local News, Local Politics