Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
How New Mexico children are taught to read is undergoing a major shift.
And some educators believe it will help move the literacy needle in the state.
Under a 2019 state law, the Public Education Department and local districts are now responsible for “attending to the explicit teaching of reading through the use of structured literacy,” said Jacqueline Costales, PED’s division director of curriculum and instruction.
Structured reading, she said, incorporates the five main areas of reading instruction: Phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
The structured literacy professional development program, LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling), “has been key in moving toward getting all kindergarten through fifth grade teachers across the state the training that is needed to teach reading in an explicit fashion,” Costales said.
Thus far, about 2,160 teachers, reading interventionists and special education teachers have begun a two-year training in LETRS, Costales said. The training occurs while they continue working in the classrooms and it is provided by Lexia Learning, a Massachusetts-based company with expertise in instructional, assessment and professional learning programs.
Kindergarten and second grade teachers will begin training during the 2021-22 school year.
The Public Education Department shares responsibility with the Department of Higher Education for the oversight of educator preparation programs, said Seana Flanagan, PED’s division director of education quality and ethics. PED sets licensure, statute and rules, and all educator licenses are issued through PED. The involvement of PED is also a way for PED to ensure that “educators are being prepared appropriately for K-12 education,” she said.
Moving into the fall, Costales said, the first primary grades – kindergarten, first and second – are all involved in getting training in the explicit teaching of reading based on the science of reading and “structured literacy.”
“And yes, it’s appropriate for all students, which is why the information that we receive from the dyslexia screener is the data that can help us target whatever a student’s need is,” she said.
The 2019 statute mandated the dyslexia screenings that are now being utilized with all first graders, and which “will give teachers a set of information, data, that they can use to hone in to support students who may be struggling to learn to read,” said Costales.
“That data can change how we approach reading instruction in the classroom,” she said.
Structured literacy helps teachers make the phonics piece and all the important pieces of teaching reading “much more explicit rather than implicit,” and it goes in a specific order, Costales said. She said it isn’t that teachers weren’t teaching phonics, but this clarifies the best way to do it and in a systematic way.
“In partnership with our stakeholders, we’re providing a level of professional development systematically across the state that has not been provided in my 28 years as an educator,” Costales said.
“So yes, I think it will move the literacy needle.”