Across the Street column: Reading requires decoding words and language comprehension

Joyce Rankin
Across the Street
Joyce Rankin
Larry Laszlo photo

If you think you’ve heard enough about reading and you’re OK with the fact that only 40% of our third-graders are reading at grade level, stop reading right now. If, on the other hand, you’re concerned that so many children cannot read at grade level and you’re bothered that 70% of those incarcerated in our prisons are reading at a fourth-grade level, read on.

Before we get into remedying the reading problem let me summarize what is happening in the Legislature and State Board meetings.

First, the Legislature has already dropped 62 bills that relate specifically to education. These bills include Behavior Analysts in Public School (HB-1058), Sixteen year-olds Voting in Local School District Elections (HB-1149), Safe and Healthy Learning Environments for Students (HB-1238), Administration of Inhalers for Respiratory Distress (HB-1283), and Excused Absences in Public School for Behavioral Health (SB-014). These bills come before the State Board for a vote of support. We can either vote for, against, or continue to monitor the bills. At this point most of the bills are being monitored because they haven’t passed through their committees or are lacking a fiscal note.

Another area of activity of the board is to evaluate and make decisions on schools that had been on priority improvement or turn-around status. Two Denver high schools, Manual and Abraham Lincoln, were voted by the board to become innovation schools, where hopefully with more flexibility they will improve. HOPE Online Learning Academy elementary schools were voted to be closed.


Now, back to reading, which I believe to be the most important subject taught in elementary school. A short explanation for teaching reading is found in the Simple View of Reading (SVR). Reading comprehension is the desired outcome of decoding words and language comprehension.

If students cannot decode printed English, they cannot understand it. If students cannot comprehend spoken English, they cannot know written English. Recognizing a word quickly and accurately is essential for comprehension. If you’re spending too much time trying to figure out a word, the understanding of the text will be challenging.

Learning how to teach the evidence-based science of reading in the classroom is not easy. It takes time and dedication by district and school leaders with an earnest desire to ensure that every student can read proficiently by the third grade. Teacher education courses are currently being evaluated by the Department of Education.

Next month I’ll introduce you to the Reading Wars or why we haven’t been teaching according to the READ Act. Meanwhile, keep your eye on House Bill-1288, amending the READ Act so that districts will post their reading curriculum on their school website. How is reading being taught at your school?

Joyce Rankin is a member of the State Board of Education. The Department of Education is located across the street from the Capitol. “Across the Street” will appear monthly.

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