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Improving Literacy: A Closer Look at the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021

Literacy is a foundational skill that shapes the future of every child. Recognizing its significance, Senator Berger, Senator Ballard, Superintendent Truitt, and I collaborated to introduce transformative legislation in 2021 that made changes to the Read to Achieve Literacy Program aimed at enhancing literacy outcomes. This comprehensive legislation introduced several significant changes, ranging from the "Science of Reading" to the establishment of a Digital Children's Reading Initiative.

Part I: The Science of Reading

The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021 defines the "Science of Reading" as a set of evidence-based reading instruction practices that encompass language acquisition, phonological awareness, phonics, spelling, fluency, vocabulary, oral language, and comprehension. By establishing a clear definition, North Carolina aims to guide educators in implementing effective strategies tailored to meet the needs of individual students.

Part II: Early Literacy Program and Professional Development

A pivotal aspect of the Read to Achieve Program is the establishment of the Early Literacy Program within the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). This program is designed to strengthen early literacy skills for children in the North Carolina Prekindergarten (NC Pre-K) program. Key components of the program include providing training to NC Pre-K educators and administrators and integrating age-appropriate resources to achieve reading achievement goals.

Part III: Literacy Training for Educator Preparation Programs

Recognizing that well-prepared educators are essential to fostering literacy success, the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021 requires Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) to include coursework grounded in the Science of Reading. This change will ensure that future teachers are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively teach reading and improve literacy outcomes across the state.

Part IV: Aligning Literacy Curriculum and Instruction with Read to Achieve

To ensure consistency and alignment with the Read to Achieve standards, the State Board of Education (SBE) was directed to develop literacy instruction standards. These standards will incorporate only the most effective literacy instruction methods grounded in the Science of Reading. Local school administrative units (LEAs) will evaluate their literacy curriculum and instruction to align with these standards, with full implementation expected by the 2024-2025 school year.

Part V: Literacy Interventions and Individual Reading Plans

The legislation introduces the concept of "Literacy Interventions" as intentional strategies aimed at facilitating reading development and remediating difficulties. These interventions include individual or small group instruction, reduced teacher-student ratios, tutoring, and reading camps. Additionally, starting from the 2022-2023 school year, K-3 students demonstrating difficulty with reading will have Individual Reading Plans (IRPs) outlining specific reading deficiencies and the corresponding literacy interventions.

Part VI: Reading Camps, Bonuses, and Excellent Public Schools Act Fund

Reading camps have long been instrumental in supporting struggling readers. The legislation modified the definition of reading camps to align with literacy interventions and requires LEAs to offer them based on their literacy intervention plans. Furthermore, it introduced two bonus programs for teachers associated with high growth in reading, with the aim of incentivizing and recognizing their efforts.

Part VII: Digital Children's Reading Initiative

Recognizing the increasing role of digital resources, the legislation called for the development of a Digital Children's Reading Initiative. This initiative will provide selected links to high-quality resources aligned with the Science of Reading, enabling families to support their children's literacy development.

North Carolina's Read to Achieve Program and the changes made through the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021 represent a comprehensive and forward-thinking approach to improving literacy outcomes. By defining the Science of Reading, introducing early literacy programs, aligning curricula, implementing individual reading plans, and leveraging digital resources, the state is fostering an environment where every child has the opportunity to excel in reading and set the stage for lifelong success. This transformative legislation reflects North Carolina's commitment to literacy and has the potential to make a lasting impact on the educational journey of its students.


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