This letter is in response to the “Reading Reckoning” article in the Seven Days Newspaper on Oct. 4, 2023.
The role of reading in a democratic society is critical, yet this article did a disservice to educators and the public by over-simplifying the work needed to improve literacy in Vermont.
Asserting that student scores on standardized tests are the result of lack of phonics instruction is misleading. State and national tests are not tests of word reading; they assess students’ ability to read and understand complicated texts. Students may perform poorly for any number of reasons, including weak vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, or decoding skills. Reading scores for Vermont have not experienced a “20-year slide” in reading scores. From 2000-2017 Vermont consistently outperformed the nation and experienced a small increase in achievement. From 2017-2022 there is a decline. This is a concern. A number of factors have likely influenced that result — including a decrease in our veteran teaching force, an increase in the number of teachers working on provisional licenses, a pandemic and a decline in the amount of reading students do inside and outside of school. Serious improvement will require identifying and solving the right problems.
Can schools continue to improve? Certainly. Is it simple? No. An inclusive and systemic approach to teaching all aspects of reading will make it possible to respond to the needs of individual students. State policy acknowledges what research has found: no one approach can ensure that Vermont’s students will be engaged participants in a literate democratic world.
Mary K. Grace
Partnerships for Literacy and Learning