The state education board is doubling down on Maryland’s efforts to push the science of reading.

The board on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution that would require all schools to have research-backed instruction by next school year, and also set an ambitious goal for Maryland to be one of the top 10 states for fourth grade reading.

“It’s not acceptable that we have more than half of our children that aren’t reading-proficient by the end of third grade, so we’ve got to create a sense of urgency about this,” said Carey Wright, the interim state superintendent. “And if we get close, and we may not meet that goal, then think of how many of the children will have benefited by us really doubling down.”

The Baltimore Banner reported last fall that Maryland schools have taught reading the wrong way for decades.

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In recent years, the state has taken steps to make up for it. Lawmakers passed a bill that requires young students to be screened for reading difficulties. Officials also created a grant program that will give millions to school systems if they show evidence of science-of-reading practices, deployed evaluators to observe literacy instruction in elementary schools, and required school systems to outline their science-of-reading plans for the Blueprint, the landmark education reform measure.

School systems in the state and around the country are now embracing science of reading. They include Anne Arundel County, which was one of the last districts to adopt it hop on board. While there were opportunities to buy in, nothing was required. However, with the state’s new resolution, science of reading will be harder to avoid. It also makes the push for the researched-backed instruction to be a much more urgent matter, state school officials said.

The science of reading is an instruction practice that embraces phonological awareness (the way letters sound), phonics, comprehension, vocabulary and knowledge of the world.

The resolution directs Wright to create a framework around a comprehensive literacy plan that will result in kids reading by third grade.

It’s work she’s familiar with. She was Mississippi’s state superintendent when that state turned around its reading scores, moving from one of the lowest-ranked states to outranking Maryland and coming close to the national average.

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“All we need to do is just double down with making sure that children are learning through the science of reading, our teachers are supported, our leaders are supported and we’re transparent about data collection,” Wright said at Tuesday’s meeting.

She wants a transparent way for parents and educators to see how well students are reading and how they compare to others.

“I want to make sure we are not masking the results for children,” Wright said. “I want to make sure we are producing our results by subgroup, so that everybody is very clear about which subgroups may need more intervention than others.”

She emphasized the need for teachers, instructional assistants, speech pathologists and even principals to be trained in the science of reading. She also stressed that science-of-reading instruction should start with the youngest learners in pre-K, and that coaches should be brought in to train teachers in proper reading instruction.

Maryland officials are going to review the statewide test as well as the state’s English Language Arts standards, which Wright said haven’t been updated since around 2008, to make sure they are aligned to the science of reading.

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The state will partner with colleges and universities to make sure teacher preparation programs include a focus on science-of-reading instruction. And educators will engage more with parents so they know, for instance, the strategies teachers are using in the classroom, to help guide their efforts at home.

Maryland won’t interfere with instructional materials. Local school districts can still pick the curriculum they want as long as it’s aligned to the science of reading. School staff can check the curriculum review site, EdReports, to make sure it is, Wright said.

Board president Clarence Crawford said the resolution was personal to him because he’s dyslexic and couldn’t read when he graduated high school.

“When I learned to read, it opened so many doors and avenues,” Crawford said. “We’re talking about doing something that will radically change outcomes for children.”

Maryland’s reading scores have taken a dip in the past decade. In 2013, the state’s fourth grade reading scores were second in the nation on the gold-standard National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Today, the state ranks 40th. The 2023 state test results show that only 48% of Maryland’s third graders are proficient in English Language Arts.

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The board wants to change that and set a goal, per the resolution, to rank as one of the top 10 states in reading on the fourth grade and eighth grade NAEP exams by 2027.

“The reality is, right now, we’re not preparing our elementary school students very well to read,” said Joshua Michael, the state board’s vice president, who is also a financial supporter of The Banner. “This goal also helps us realize we’re not where we think we are or where we want to be.”

Wright’s literacy plan will be released in the summer. It will include the goal of having literacy plans for all school systems in place by the next school year, 2024-25.

“It is ambitious,” Wright said. “It is robust. But it is doable.”