Room to Grow: Improving Early Literacy in AZ

November 7, 2023
Education Team

Only 41% of Arizona’s third graders scored Proficient or Highly Proficient on the 2022 AzM2 third grade English language arts assessment,  the annual test by which the State can track any gains or losses in student reading proficiency. Arizona has struggled to raise the reading proficiency level of students, which suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early literacy is a major focus of the State’s education progress meter with a goal of increasing the number of third-graders reading confidently to 72% by 2030, a gap of over 30%.

But we have a long way to go, and Arizona is not alone in struggling with increasing literacy rates. Nationally in 2022, only 33% of fourth grade students performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level on the reading assessment. 

Many great pieces of research and journalism have been published in the past few years highlighting the challenges students, parents, teachers, and communities face in raising literacy rates, one of the most popular being the “Sold a Story” podcast produced by American Public Media. Highly recommended by the Early Literacy Impact Team, the podcast focuses on the “Science of Reading”, a body of research that’s been collected over decades about how kids learn to read, why they struggle, and what changes can make meaningful improvements in the lives of young readers.

Driven to do to support Arizona’s children, Valley Leadership’s Early Literacy Impact Team has taken on the task of understanding how the Science of Reading fits within the current education landscape in the State.

Since 2022, 15 states have passed laws regarding reading instruction, mandating that  literacy lessons align with the Science of Reading. The Arizona Legislature has passed and the Department of Education has implemented data-driven policies such as “Move On When Reading” for students, the Early Literacy Endorsement for teachers, and mandating “evidence-based reading curriculum” be used when teaching early readers.

However, there is still a huge gap between the policies that have been implemented and actually achieving increased literacy rates. 

The VL Early Literacy Impact Team believes a huge piece of closing that gap is bringing awareness to these existing policies and the current literacy data to our local school boards. Based on the team’s research, very little time in school board meetings is spent discussing the current state of early literacy, the Science of Reading, or efforts to raise literacy levels. At a time when school board meetings in Arizona, and across the country, have been in the news for their divisive politics and disruptive arguments, we’re asking what if we took time to bring these meetings back towards an issue that really matters for the future of Arizona? If our state doesn’t improve reading rates, our children will continue to fall behind.

In order to solve this crisis, we need everyone in the education system pulling together. Over the next few months, our team will be attending and speaking at school board meetings in order to raise awareness of individual school district’s early literacy rates and the progress that needs to be made to improve them. Keep an eye out for a future update on our successes and challenges in this process and details on how you can join us in advocating for children in Arizona.

Contact us to learn more about the Early Literacy Team’s work and how you can get involved.