Hello and good morning, Chairperson Mendelson and the Committee of the Whole, my name is Joshua Hodge. I am the Policy and Communications Manager at Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC) and I am a Ward 6 resident. ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all students. I am testifying to continue to elevate the need for additional literacy support and resources for all students, and to advocate for the following: parent and guardian access to assessments results along with a clear explanation of what their student’s scores mean; public transparency around the new literacy task force; and the adoption of the following recommendations given to us by members of our community and during the ‘Right To Read Literacy Conference’ hosted in October, which we are extremely grateful yourself Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Pinto were able to speak at, on behalf of ERN DC.
The continued elevation of the importance of student literacy:
Ensuring strong student literacy outcomes in DC is one of the most important issues facing our great city. A child’s ability to read directly impacts their future educational goals, attainment of a livable income, and overall quality of life. While public schools in D.C. have made progress in fourth-grade reading over the last decade, currently, about 70 percent of fourth-graders in D.C. scored below proficiency levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress 2022 exam, known as NAEP. These numbers are grim and further highlight the need to implement literacy instruction grounded in the science of reading. For those of you who do not know the science of reading is an evidence-based reading practice that emphasizes highly explicit and systematic teaching of all important components of literacy. These components include both foundational skills (decoding, spelling) and higher-level literacy skills (reading comprehension, written expression). The effects of low student literacy rates are felt not only throughout k-12 public education but also in college readiness and college competition rates. According to the DC Policy Center, out of every 100 DC public school students who began ninth-grade in 2014-15 and were in the graduating high school class cohort of 2017-18, only 14 students will complete a postsecondary degree within six years of high school graduation. These same graduates without a postsecondary degree can expect to earn an estimated $15,000 a year in their first years after high school. Which is significantly under the DC average income.
That is why we support the Implementation of the “Addressing Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties Amendment Act of 2020” and Improving upon the FY2023 Budget Support Act Subtitle, “Structured Literacy Training Action Plan”. We believe it is critically important for all K-5 educators to be trained in the science of reading, parents to receive their students test scores and understand what their scores entail, and for there to be transparency in the new literacy task force. We also know that we have more work to do in this area. We along with Decoding Dyslexia DC, DC Special Education Cooperative, and DC Charter School Alliance worked together on several ways to strengthen efforts in the coming days.
Recommendations for Improving Literacy in the District of Columbia
- OSSE must ensure trainings, tools, and guidance are appropriate for English Learners students.
Building a Pipeline of Reading Coaches
- OSSE must train educators to become reading coaches and pay them for their expertise. The Washington Teachers Union may be a valuable partner in this effort.
- The District must work with local universities to offer free Masters degree in Reading and Special Education.
Empowering Families to Take Action
- OSSE must ensure all parents and guardians receive and understand all of their children’s assessment results in a timely fashion so they are equipped to support their learners. These assessments include but are not limited to PARCC (statewide annual assessment), NAEP (nation’s report card), DIBELS (reading skills exam), MAP, and iReady.
OSSE must provide annual citywide trainings so that families can better understand their student’s assessment data, co-create an action plan to support students’ growth, and can hold their educators and schools accountable. These trainings should also provide guidance and/or turnkey materials to LEAs so they can provide trainings, supports, discussions about next steps at the school level.
Parents and guardians have a right to ask for a free evaluation or assessment of their children’s reading ability. OSSE must make information about how to access the assessment process available online.
- OSSE’s must publish on its website a calendar for implementation so the public can understand what the District is doing at every step in the process and are aware of opportunities to engage.
- OSSE must ensure the newly created Early Literacy Education Task Force (“Taskforce”) is transparent by publicizing on its website the members of the taskforce as well as the literacy education report.
In closing, District leaders have an opportunity to deepen investments in literacy and create transparency with the community on what is being done to ensure students are able to read. Presenting the chance to create a public education system here in DC that is more just and equitable for all DC learners and their families. Thank you to the Committee for the Whole for allowing me to testify today.
 FY2023 Budget Support Act Subtitle, “Structured Literacy Training Action Plan.” Source: https://lims.dccouncil.gov/downloads/LIMS/49079/Meeting1/Amendment/B24-0714-Amendment2.pdf
Transition to college or career for the district’s high school students. D.C. Policy Center. (2021, December 10). Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/student-transition-college-career/