Many Journal letter writers — including current and former educators — insist it’s time for schools to re-emphasize phonics when it comes to teaching reading as New Mexico faces a literacy crisis. They say that relying solely on other teaching methods doesn’t work well without phonics, which correlates sounds with letters or groups of letters.
There’s good news for this constituency and, one hopes, the schoolchildren and reading learners of New Mexico.
A 2019 state law makes the Public Education Department and local districts responsible for “attending to the explicit teaching of reading through the use of structured literacy,” according to Jacqueline Costales, PED’s division director of curriculum and instruction. And structured reading instruction, she said, incorporates five main areas: Phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. About 2,200 New Mexico educators have begun a two-year training in a structured literacy language essentials program.
The 2019 statute also mandated dyslexia screenings intended to give teachers information to hone in on how to help students who may be struggling to learn to read. First-graders now must be screened for dyslexia within the first 40 days of the school year and by teachers trained in how to administer the screening assessments. Also, PED has produced a Dyslexia Handbook that lays out the logistics and goals of screenings, and professional development for teachers to learn the structured literacy approach in teaching dyslexic children.
Costales said N.M. is “providing a level of professional development … across the state that has not been provided in my 28 years as an educator.”
As the Journal previously has reported as part of The Literacy Project — a yearlong partnership with KOAT-TV and KKOB News Radio to spotlight this problem — New Mexico’s literacy ranks 49th in the United States. Almost a third of the state’s adults read at the level of ages 5 to 7, and 76% of fourth-graders aren’t proficient in reading, facts that correlate with high unemployment, poverty, poor health and other chronic issues plaguing our state.
The state’s new public education chief, Kurt Steinhaus, sees “phonemic awareness” as a first step in teaching reading, and said he wants this to be the “year of literacy.”
Stephanie Fascitelli, Albuquerque Public Schools’ associate superintendent for special education, says in the past, “teachers didn’t graduate from institutions knowing how to teach reading, myself included.”
There must be follow-up to ensure the structured reading is effective. If so, and with full support from PED leadership, maybe New Mexico’s sad literacy numbers will finally move in the right direction.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.