Iowa House Passes Bill to Enhance Student Literacy

A bill focused on enhancing literacy rates among Iowa students was passed by the Iowa House, enabling parents to opt for grade retention for their children if they struggle with reading and implementing new educational mandates for teachers.

House File 2618 was approved with a 92-3 vote on Tuesday. Under this bill, schools must notify parents or guardians of students from kindergarten to sixth grade who are not proficient in reading at grade level and provide them with the option to request grade repetition for their child. Students falling below literacy standards will receive personalized intervention plans until they achieve grade-level reading.

Representative Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, emphasized that many of the bill’s requirements align with the existing efforts of teachers to enhance literacy outcomes for students.

“Teachers already monitor students struggling with reading at grade level. They engage with parents and devise individualized plans for students to reach grade-level proficiency. Much of this is already part of our current practices,” Steckman stated.

She commended the bill for being more tempered compared to Governor Kim Reynolds’ original proposition. Reynolds initially introduced legislation at the outset of the session to enhance literacy rates in Iowa schools, advocating for prospective Iowa teacher candidates to pass the Foundations of Reading assessment to graduate from early childhood, elementary, K-12 reading, literacy preparation, and special education programs.

In a House amendment, the mandatory passing of the assessment for teacher licensure was eliminated, although education program students would still be obligated to undertake the assessment, with results communicated to the Iowa Department of Education.

The House bill excludes specific directives on reading instruction and literacy tactics outlined in the Senate’s version, particularly concerning the teaching of phonics and prohibiting certain literacy teaching approaches associated with rote memorization or contextual clues for word identification.

These discussions revolved around the “science of reading” methodologies emphasizing phonics to enhance reading and language skills in young learners. Numerous states, such as Mississippi, witnessed enhanced national reading scores post their adoption of this approach.

In January, Reynolds remarked that while Iowa hadn’t experienced the reading score declines seen in other states in recent years, sustaining the status quo wasn’t acceptable for Iowa students. Data from the 2022-2023 Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress demonstrated that 34% of Iowa third-graders lacked proficiency in English Language Arts skills. Research indicated that third-grade students not proficient in reading encounter increased academic and personal challenges as they grow older.

Representative Tom Moore, R-Griswold, expressed gratitude to Governor Reynolds’ office for collaborating with legislators to devise a “sound compromise” on enhancing reading education for Iowa students. Moore echoed Steckman’s view that the bill reflects practices already employed by many Iowa teachers but stressed the importance of ensuring all students receive adequate literacy support as necessary.

“Evidently, if all our teachers were implementing these strategies, we wouldn’t be in the middle of the national reading rankings,” Moore noted.

The bill will now proceed to the Senate for further deliberation.

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