AP NEWS

Gov. Ducey signs bill to assess Arizona’s literacy instruction

May 9, 2019

Concerned that 56% of Arizona’s third-graders don’t read at a third-grade level, state legislators passed a bill that has the potential to spark improvement in youngsters’ reading proficiency.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed the legislation into law Tuesday, which made the bill’s author very happy. Rep. Leo Biasiucci, a District 5 Arizona lawmaker and Lake Havasu City resident, crafted the legislation that would require the state to survey its kindergarten programs annually. Of particular interest are the reading programs.

The Republican lawmaker sponsored HB 2083 that directs the Arizona Department of Education to conduct an annual statewide survey of school districts and charter schools as part of the plan to improve the reading proficiency of pupils in kindergarten programs and grades one, two and three.

“HB 2083 will, for the first time in Arizona history, collect five years’ worth of critical data as to access, effectiveness and outcome of voluntary full day kindergarten across the state,” Biasiucci said. “This information will be critical to increasing Arizona’s third grade reading outcomes. Right now, 56 percent of Arizona’s third-graders do not read at a third-grade level. And we already know that children who do not learn to read by the end of kindergarten are likely to be part of that 56 percent. This is a concerning statistic that we all need to take seriously.”

As always, funding is an issue. It costs more to keep children in school all day versus the half-day kindergartens in some school districts.

“Currently, schools are only receiving funding for half-day kindergarten, and many believe that we can solve our literacy issue by funding a quality full day kindergarten,” Biasiucci said. “But before we decide to invest in that idea, I wanted to make sure that we have the data to justify it. This survey will cost the state and schools nothing, and it will provide us with critical information to make that decision.”

Incidentally, the Lake Havasu Unified School District offers full-day instruction for all kindergarten students. Previously, district Superintendent Diana Asseier talked about the intricacies of teaching and learning literacy.

“English is the toughest alphabetic written language in the world, and reading is very different from speaking language. It takes a child two to three years to learn to decode English,” she said. “Then students must move from decoding to fluent reading.

“Also, the development of spoken language is a large factor in learning to read. The greater the vocabulary of young children, the easier they learn to decode the idiosyncrasies of the English written word. Many factors contribute to early reading. The time spent in (kindergarten) is a very big factor, and full day kindergarten gives our children an advantage in that two- to three-year process.”

Biasiucci noted the legislation received strong nonpartisan support from lawmakers.

“This bill had overwhelming support (57-3 in the House, 25-2 in the Senate) and will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. School districts will have to start submitting the data to the state starting next year,” he said.

In accordance with the legislation, Biasiucci’s bill directs the state Board of Education to ask schools to provide this information:

1. How many hours per day of kindergarten instruction are currently provided at each school.

2. How full day kindergarten instruction is currently funded at each school.

3. The reading proficiency of pupils in kindergarten programs and grades one, two and three at each school.

4. The reading program used at each school.

Pam Ashley can be reached at 928-453-4237, ext. 230 or pashley@havasunews.com.