D.C. State Board of Education Testimony

Washington, D.C.

October 27, 2023

Jessica Giles
Executive Director
Education Reform Now Advocacy
October 18 Public Meeting

Good evening, D.C. State Board of Education representatives! My name is Jessica Giles. I am a Ward 7 resident and the Executive Director of Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA). ERNA fights for a just and equitable public education system for all students in Washington, DC. We believe every student can learn and fulfill their limitless potential, regardless of race, background, ward, and ability. Thank you to the State Board for holding a panel discussion on the Early Literacy Education Task Force (Task Force) recommendations. It is my pleasure to provide written testimony in support of the recommendations and to request a bold investment in literacy.

Why is literacy important? 

Reading is a fundamental skill that all students need in order to succeed in school, life, and career. Our deepest desire is for every child to read on grade level by third grade regardless of where in the city they live and what school they attend. That is not currently the case, and schools in the District of Columbia are facing a reading crisis.

In 2022, 73 percent of students scored below proficient levels on the NAEP (also known as the Nation’s Report Card), up from 69 percent in 2019. Black and Hispanic students scored an average of 69 and 60 points, respectively, lower than White students. This gap has remained statistically the same since 1998.

Why is structured literacy important? 

For the past two years, ERNA has advocated for a citywide literacy intervention based on the science of reading — a decades-long, interdisciplinary, and proven body of knowledge that provides a deeper understanding of how individuals learn to read. This body of research informs the best approach for teaching basic reading skills: structured literacy. Structured literacy helps all students, including children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, read and write. Structured literacy emphasizes highly explicit and systematic teaching of all important components of literacy. These components include both foundational skills (e.g., decoding, spelling) and higher-level literacy skills (e.g., reading comprehension, written expression). Structured literacy also emphasizes oral language abilities essential to literacy development, including phonemic awareness. 

Our Support for the Taskforce’s recommendations

When the Taskforce released their recommendations, we were excited to see them. Namely, we commend the Taskforce for including the following:

  • Special education and English Learner teachers are prioritized in the early implementation phases.
  • Communication toolkits will be created for families about their students’ early reading skills.
  • Educators will need to demonstrate competency.

But as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. It will be critical for these recommendations to be implemented with fidelity so that all elementary educators can feel confident about their ability to teach all components of literacy and be supported. In the coming weeks and months, we will advocate for funding to support the implementation of these recommendations. 

Our asks

We humbly ask the State Board to urge the Mayor and the D.C. Council to prioritize a bold investment in the FY2025 Budget. We also ask the Office of the Student Advocate to partner with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in the creation of toolkits to help families support their readers at home, similar to the D.C. Dyslexia Guidebook. It’s vital that families are treated as true partners during this reading revolution.

Thank you for your attention to this important cause and your leadership!