Working Group Will Shape Literacy Legislation in New Jersey
TRENTON – In an effort to help pandemic learning loss, close the achievement gap, and improve literacy rates among all students in New Jersey, Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) introduced a package of four bills to enhance student performance across all grade levels. The bills introduced today are a framework, and expected to be strengthened by collaborating with stakeholders through a working group process. The bill package includes legislation that would require school districts to screen students at all grade levels using a reading assessment tool as well as create a reading intervention program to ensure students do not fall further behind.
“Third grade in particular is a crucial milestone for literacy, and is still an area where we see students severely lagging behind,” said Majority Leader Ruiz. “The numbers across the State are alarming and if we don’t intervene now, another generation of our children will fail to achieve their academic and economic potential. From birth to third grade you learn to read. And from third grade and beyond you read to learn. While the achievement gap may have grown during the pandemic, learning loss has plagued New Jersey schools for decades, especially impacting communities of color.”
In 2023, statewide third grade reading proficiency stagnated with 57.6% of students not meeting proficiency levels. The results were catastrophic for Black students as 73.6% were found not proficient. Latino students fared only slightly better as 72.5% did not meet proficiency levels.
S-2644 would require school districts to implement a reading intervention program for students in K-3, where building foundational literacy skills is critical. The intervention program would provide instruction in phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, and monitor the reading progress of a student throughout the school year. The Department of Education would provide school districts with age-appropriate materials to implement the program, and school districts would be required to adopt high-quality instructional materials grounded in scientifically-based reading research to implement the program.
S-2645 would require that school districts screen certain students for reading deficiencies using an assessment approved by the Department of Education. Students enrolled in kindergarten through third grade (K-3) would be assessed three times per school year; and certain students in grades 4 through 12 (4-12) would be screened. The screening would be required to (1) measure phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension; and (2) identify students who have a reading deficiency. School districts would be required to notify a parent or guardian of a student who exhibits a reading deficiency no later than 15 days after identification.
S-2646 works to ensure that teachers are prepared to implement reading intervention programs by providing training annually to teachers in K-3, as well as certain other teachers. Districts would additionally be required to provide K-3 teachers with ongoing coaching support; including example lessons, classroom observance, and feedback to aid in delivery of this supplemental education. Train the trainer programs for the creation of literacy coaches in public schools to provide instruction to interested teachers on the science of reading and reading interventions would also be included.
S-2647 recognizes the consequential nature of student learning-loss by establishing the independent Office of the Learning Loss Czar in the Department of Education. This new Office would collaborate with the Commissioner of the DOE to study and address learning loss.