Chris Schulz Published

Senate Education Committee Advances Bill On Early Childhood Literacy

0119 Superintendent David Roach at Senate Education Committee
Superintendent David Roach speaks to the Senate Education Committee on Thursday Jan. 19, 2023.
Will Price

State education leaders are pushing for early childhood intervention in schools to ensure literacy. The renewed focus comes after state and national test results in 2022 showed steep declines in reading and math scores. Those efforts are now starting to move through the legislature.

The Senate Education Committee took up Senate Bill 274 Thursday morning. The bill, titled the “Third Grade Success Act,” enacts several changes to how literacy is taught from Kindergarten through third grade, which is considered a crucial period for lifetime reading skills.

Sen. Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, initially expressed concern that the legislation was not in line with what teachers in classrooms actually wanted or needed, and lacked a focus on math, but was convinced by the day’s discussion.

“We’ve been talking about really transforming how we teach reading to children in West Virginia,” he said. “Clearly, we’ve identified there’s a problem. And we want to look for a solution. And this legislation is designed to do that.”

Oliverio also serves on the Senate Finance Committee where Senate Bill 274 heads next. He hopes to get more perspective on the bill’s proposals from teachers between committee meetings.

“Then on finance with that positive feedback that I hope I receive, and what appears to be success in other jurisdictions around the country, I’ll be supportive of funding this initiative, and really recognizing that there are few things more important, if any, than making sure that our children are learning and maturing properly,” Oliverio said.

State Superintendent David Roach has been championing early childhood literacy as a core component of the Department of Education’s “Ready, Read, Write West Virginia” initiative. He said he was pleased to see the legislature take action on the issue.

“I think it’s wonderful for our children, I think it gives help to our teachers,” Roach said. “We’re going to be asking to implement the science of reading. We will be training our paraprofessionals. Our teachers will also be thrilled because they’ll have a partner trying to help the students, because we have a wide range of students coming into the classroom, and I think it’d be a great success with their addition.”

A key component of the legislation, and Roach’s approach to early literacy, is to increase individual intervention by bringing more aides and reading coaches into the classroom. The bill also aims to reduce class sizes and redefine the acceptable ratio of instructors and students in a classroom.

“It’s so critical for our children to read to be successful. And without being able to read proficiently, we are really kind of shutting doors on their future, and I think every child deserves an open door,” Roach said.

“I’m excited. The science of reading actually shows the brain changing. There’s evidence that the components of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, plus writing changes the pathway in the brain, and our children can read.”

Superintendent Roach said Senate Bill 274 represents a collaboration between the Department of Education, the Legislature, and the governor.

“It takes all of us, the whole state, our agencies that come together to make this happen, and for it to be successful, because our agency alone cannot do it,” he said. “It takes truly the whole state.”

Although literacy is his first priority, Roach said the Department of Education will present a similar improvement plan for mathematics this spring.