Commentary: Let’s build a strong foundation of literacy for Delaware students


The Delaware Reading Summit. in March brought together over 100 experts and stakeholders focused on literacy for Delaware’s students. Delawareans shared their stories about struggling to read or finding the right supports for their own children. Educators shared their desire to become stronger reading teachers for their students. The event showcased some well-established wisdom: that early literacy is a key building block to a solid education.

It also validated decades of modern research that tells us learning how to read isn’t as simple as we used to think.

While reading to a child daily or immersing them in libraries is a wonderful start, children also need instruction on how to decode words based on the sounds made by the letters. Researchers estimate that we have the ability to teach 95% of all students in this country to read utilizing instruction based on systematically teaching phonics by the end of first grade. However, right now in Delaware, only 33% of students are proficient in reading by fourth grade. Of the nearly 37,000 low-income students in Delaware, only 33% are proficient in reading by fourth grade. National trends over the years show that scores of youth who interface with the juvenile detention system are functionally illiterate, which means they cannot complete a job application or read the driver’s manual at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

To combat this trend, many states have adopted policies and launched focused initiatives to advance literacy widely. These states have created standards for educators to be trained, coached and supported, as well as classroom materials and assessments backed by evidence. Simply, they’ve made it a priority for children to learn how to read as early and efficiently as possible, setting them up for success later in life.

Delaware would be prudent to follow, as the research is clear: The science of reading decreases gaps and increases literacy.

Delaware’s Department of Education and the state Literacy Plan have gotten us off to a good start, providing strong materials and trainings to educators. Hundreds of educators are voluntarily participating in evidence-based training, and more than half of our school districts have adopted high-quality learning materials. With so many students in Delaware struggling to read, we need to continue to empower the DDOE to ensure teachers have access to the right curriculum and training.

The next step is to ensure that all Delaware students have access to teachers with the training and materials they deserve to know how to teach reading. Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 304 would do just that — provide standards for the materials educators use to know the needs of their students and to teach them how to decode words, sound out multisyllabic words, learn vowel teams and provide all the important foundations of how the human brain learns to read. SB 4 and HB 304 empower the state to make sure curriculum and training is aligned to what research and experts tell us about how the brain develops reading skills.

These bills are making their way through the General Assembly and deserve our support. Call your legislator and ask them to support Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 304 — let’s build a foundation of literacy for our students.

Kathy Seeman is a reading specialist and educator at The College School, Newark. Jamar Rahming is the director of the Wilmington Public Library.

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