An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, which the Massachusetts Legislature approved with substantial bipartisan support, is now law. Governor Deval Patrick signed the bill yesterday at a ceremony in the library of the Robin Hood Elementary School in Stoneham, surrounded by third graders. (Read the news release from the governor’s office.)
An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency represents an important step in ensuring that children in Massachusetts achieve this critical educational benchmark. It would establish an Early Literacy Expert Panel to advise state education agencies on the alignment, coordination and implementation – from early education and care through the primary grades — of language-rich curriculum, effective instructional practices, professional development and training, developmentally appropriate assessment, and family partnership. It would advise on the refinement and implementation of existing state plans for early literacy development.
“The ability to read and to read with confidence by the time you’re in third grade is incredibly important for your success in school for the rest of the time you’re in school and for the rest of your life,” Governor Patrick said before signing the legislation and reading “How Rocket Learned to Read” to the children. “It is really important that we as adults, as stewards of the education system, try to make sure that kids, by the time they reach third grade, are comfortable and confident readers. … What this bill is about is… making sure we’re really bearing down and bringing all the right resources to get this right, not just for your class but for classes for generations to come.”
Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Representative Marty Walz (D-Melrose), lead sponsors of the bill, and Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, also spoke. Commissioner Sherri Killins of the Department of Early Education and Care, Representative Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), and Nonie Lesaux, author of “Turning the Page,” attended the event.
“In Massachusetts, we invest in our kids. We know that if we invest in early reading, it’s one of the best returns on our public dollars,” Senator Clark said. “When we invest in our early readers and early literacy, and in our schools, we really make an investment in ourselves.”
Representative Walz reiterated the importance of early literacy, saying in a statement, “Given the state’s 10 years of stagnant reading scores, we need to rethink our strategies for early literacy and reading.”
“This bill took an awful lot of teamwork,” Walz said at the bill signing. “It took a lot of time to figure out what was going to be helpful.” Representative Walz thanked Representative Peisch and Strategies for Children, which commissioned the 2010 report – “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success” — that informs the bill. “It has been a great effort by Strategies for Children and its Early Education for All Campaign. They deserve a tremendous amount of thanks,” Representative Walz said.
Representative Peisch said she looked forward to working with the state’s education agencies to implement the bill. “There is probably nothing more important than the success of these young children and children across the commonwealth and their ability to read by the time they’re in third grade,” Representative Peisch said.
We at Strategies for Children thank the Legislature and the governor for their support of this measure and look forward to its effective implementation. Although Massachusetts is considered a national leader in education, 39% of third graders read below grade level, according to results of the 2012 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Among children from low-income families, 60% lag in reading. Performance in reading has changed little since 2001, when 38% of third graders scored below proficient. Research finds that children who struggle with reading in third grade are four times less likely than competent readers to finish high school by age 19. The new statute is a vital first step in turning this around.