South Dakota Governor Noem’s Phonics Literacy Initiative Makes Progress in Legislature

The House Education Committee in Pierre unanimously supported Gov. Kristi Noem’s $6 million plan to train teachers in phonics literacy. The bill has now been sent to the Joint Appropriations Committee. The bill will continue the state Department of Education’s literacy program for the next four years and provide training to all elementary schools and teachers in the state. The program aims to address the low proficiency rates in English Language Arts exams, with half of all South Dakota students currently not meeting the standard. Assessment data shows that 68% of fourth graders in the state are not proficient in reading.

The bill has received widespread support and did not face any opposition during the committee hearing. The effort to improve literacy skills in South Dakota comes as a response to the ongoing debate about the best approach to teaching children to read. One side advocates for an emphasis on phonics, while the other side prefers a “whole language” approach. The Science of Reading program, supported by the bill, is based on research that highlights five foundational components of literacy education: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

The training provided through the program has shown promising results, with teachers reporting improved literacy rates among their students. Jennifer Macziewski, a first-grade teacher in Rapid City, said that after implementing the Science of Reading in her classroom, 58% of her students are now at or above the benchmark, and she expects that number to rise to 80-90% by the end of the year.

The South Dakota Board of Regents plans to incorporate the Science of Reading into teacher preparation programs across the state to further enhance reading proficiency. The state’s English Language Arts standards will also be reviewed starting in 2024. Additionally, two other education bills were considered by the House committee but did not advance.

The $6 million investment in phonics literacy training aims to address the persistently low proficiency rates in English Language Arts exams in South Dakota and provide students with the foundational skills needed for lifelong success.

This chart shows the percentage of South Dakota students who reached proficiency in assessments. Fifty percent of South Dakota students were not proficient in English Language Arts during the 2022-2023 school year, according to the state Department of Education. (SDDOE)
South Dakota Department of Education Secretary Joseph Graves speaks to the state House Education Committee on Jan. 17, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

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