Colorado State Board calls for more teacher training on reading, not less

Hoping to push up Colorado’s persistently low reading scores, the State Board of Education on Wednesday opted for tougher rules around teacher training on reading instruction. In calling for higher standards, the board lined up with advocates for students with dyslexia, despite objections from groups representing teachers, district administrators, and rural educators.

The new rules will govern the rollout of legislation that updates a major 2012 law — the READ Act — requiring districts to help struggling readers in the early grades. Many lawmakers and advocates are frustrated with the slow rate of progress, and many educators report that their preparation programs did not teach them how to teach reading.

While the board won’t take a final vote on the proposed rules till March, most members urged state education department leaders to keep a provision that requires trainings to be at least 45 hours long. They also opted — at least for now — to keep language indicating that the state education department would designate in advance which college reading classes count toward the training requirement.

Several key education groups, including the Colorado Association of School Executives, the state’s largest teachers union, and the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance, objected to the proposed 45-hour requirement in written comments.

Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association, said in a letter that the rule adds “additional workload and stress to educators and an educational system that is already significantly under resourced.”

But most board members weren’t swayed by such arguments.

“If we don’t have rigorous requirements … then the ones who bear the burden are the children who do not get effective reading instruction,” said Board Member Rebecca McClellan.

Board Member Joyce Rankin said she recently took a 48-hour online class on reading instruction that convinced her of the need for the time requirement.

“I would like to stick with 45 hours,” she said. “I didn’t know what we were talking about with this bill until I took this course.”

Rankin was referring to Senate Bill 199, the new law that updated the READ Act and included the new teacher training requirements.

Teachers would have until the beginning of the 2021-22 school year to meet the new training requirement, with extensions allowed in some cases. A 45-hour course is roughly equivalent to a college class worth three credit hours.

The board talked more briefly about the criteria for college classes that satisfy the training requirement. Draft rules originally indicated that the state education department would approve classes in advance, but state officials worried that would create confusion given that there’s a separate process for reauthorizing entire teacher preparation programs.

So state officials proposed a tweak that effectively meant college classes would be approved or rejected once individual teachers had already taken them and submitted proof to the education department. Some board members raised concerns about that change, noting that inadequate college classes on reading instruction have contributed to low reading proficiency rates and shouldn’t get a pass on the front end of the process.

“Where’s the leverage then?” asked Board Member Deb Scheffel. “I don’t know that it raises the bar, really.”