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Senate legislation promotes 'the science of reading' in Iowa schools

Natalie Krebs

Under a bill in the Iowa Senate, schools would be required to align their reading instruction with strategies supported by what is known as the science of reading.

It would also put Iowa among a growing list of states that have banned a model called ‘three-cueing’ that uses pictures and context to identify words.

The science of reading is not a specific curriculum but an explanation of how students learn to read with an emphasis on its five pillars which include phonics, fluency and comprehension.

In presentations before lawmakers last week, experts with the Iowa Reading Research Center at the University of Iowa said the science of reading helps teachers to understand the process of learning to read and to diagnose the specific skills students need to improve in order to become better readers.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, said that by promoting the science of reading over three-cueing in state law he hopes to see student scores improve.

“I’m excited about advancing this bill,” said Rozenboom, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “The goal is, as always, the improvement of our children’s educational experience.”

While the science of reading drew broad support at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday, there were education advocates who cautioned against entirely banning other approaches to teaching reading.

Sen. Molly Donahue, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said teachers and school districts should decide when to use different kinds of instruction.

“Because you don’t want to pigeonhole every district and every kid to one program, because they are different and some things will not work for all kids,” Donahue said.

Besides banning the three-cueing system by name, the bill also singles out strategies that are part of that instruction model such as context, structure, visual cues and memory.

Speaking for the Iowa Board of Regents, Jillian Carlson said educators may find success drawing from those practices to help individual students.

“An ELL student may have phonemic awareness and be able to sound out a word, but until they use the memorization and vocabulary they’re not going to be successful in learning to read or understand what they’re reading," she said.

Angie Baker urged lawmakers to fully embrace the science of reading. She was one of several parents of children with dyslexia who said they believe their students were late to be diagnosed, and struggled to read in school, because of how reading was taught.

“And what we don’t want kids doing is guessing anymore,” Baker said. “We don’t want them using this three-cue method to look at the pictures or use the context to guess because we can teach them the code of English.”

The bill (SSB 3069) would also elevate the science of reading, and ban three-cueing, in teacher prep programs at Iowa colleges and universities. It was passed by the subcommittee to the full Senate Education Committee.

Separate from the Senate bill, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ also has plans to promote the science of reading. She wants to require new elementary teachers to pass an exam based on the science of reading and to require schools to make personalized plans for students who are not up to grade level by third grade.

Copyright 2024 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.