The Connecticut Association for Reading Research (CARR) is deeply concerned regarding H.B. 6620, An Act Concerning the Right to Read and Addressing Certain Opportunity Gaps. The bill defines reading as:
evidence-based instruction that focuses on competency in the five areas of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary development and fluency, including oral skills and reading comprehension.
This definition is seriously problematic in that it subordinates comprehension to fluency. Furthermore, fluency is used twice in the definition which suggests it is the paramount objective of reading instruction. As literacy teachers, consultants, professors, and administrators, we know that the overarching goal of reading is the deep comprehension of text.
Fluency is one outcome of good comprehension. But fluency, in and of itself is not comprehension as evidenced by those students identified as word callers who read short assessment passages fluently with little or no ability to answer related questions or summarize text.
Ironically, this definition moves away from the work of the National Reading Panel Report of 2000, and Connecticut Public Act 12-116. In those iterations, comprehension was at least equivalent to the other instructional areas. Most importantly, defining reading in this way ignores the 2020 publication of Reaping the Rewards of Reading for Understanding. This in-depth analysis of comprehension was substantially funded by grants from U.S. Department of Education Institute of Educational Sciences. Furthermore, it documents a now deeper understanding of comprehension instruction at the 6-12 grade levels, a complex domain given little attention in past national studies. Thus, at this point in time, any prescriptive curriculum directives —including the five options in this bill—and developed without substantial knowledge of this decade-long study are based on a seriously incomplete knowledge base.
Again, the state is creating a scenario whereby districts will be flooded by vendors with costly materials and formative testing purporting alignment with a mandated literacy standard, but showing little evidence of the actual impact on the most important student outcomes. As with previous mandates, the skills easiest to test and teach are at the forefront.
H.B.6620 relies on conceptions that are now decades old and that engendered a cadre of practices and assessments — including teacher certification requirements in literacy —that were highly touted, a decade ago, as the answer to closing the achievement gap. While some progress has been made, growth toward that goal has been agonizingly slow and this year’s loss of school time is now adding to the burden of accelerating academic progress in our neediest students.
We have included here the reference to the NAEd analysis and, as with all government research, it can be downloaded for free. CARR strongly urges those in charge of children’s and adolescents’ literacy growth to become knowledgeable regarding this important publication and communicate the grave weakness of this Bill to the Education Committee of the General Assembly and their district representatives.
Ann M. Mulready is Chair of Legislative Issues for the CT Association for Reading Research.