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Lawmakers Hope To Turn The Page On Literacy Issues Among Florida Students

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Experts say there’s a connection between students reading below grade level in third grade and those same students later dropping out of school.

A raft of bills aimed at addressing illiteracy concerns among students has passed in the Florida House.

In Florida, about 43% of third grade students are reading below grade level. That’s according to data collected from a recent assessment taken by students across the state

Rep. Vance Aloupis (R-Miami) calls that "unacceptable."

"You think about that eight-year-old child sitting in their classroom, with their book bag on their chair, looking at that workbook in front of them and not being able to read the pages on that book. I’ve said it multiple times in this chamber. That is an American tragedy,” Aloupis says.

Aloupis is behind a measure that would help teachers and schools better analyze their students’ reading ability by creating a “progress monitoring system.” It also creates a group of literacy support teams as part of a new initiative called the RASIE program, or Reading Achievement Initiative For Scholastic Excellence. The teams will offer professional development to help teachers better connect with struggling readers. Aloupis says it’s part of an effort to address literacy issues from multiple angles.

“This is the first time in the history of this legislature that I have ever seen literacy tackled in such a comprehensive way where we’re focused not only on the students, but the parents and for the teachers,” Aloupis says.

Experts say there’s a connection between students reading below grade level in third grade and those same students later dropping out of school. In Florida, that concern is greater for boys. Data from standardized tests shows by 10th grade the gap between boys and girls who are not reading at grade level, widens to 11 percentage points. Rep. Traci Koster (R-Safety Harbor) has a bill that aims to close that gap "recognizing the important differences between our boys and girls while tailoring their education accordingly."

Koster’s bill creates a task force to examine strategies for closing the achievement gap between boys and girls. The taskforce will be required to submit a report by December to legislative leaders with suggestions on best practices, professional development and strategies that could help boys keep up with their female peers.

Lawmakers are also working to address literacy at home by encouraging parents to read to their children through a program that would deliver books free of cost to the homes of eligible struggling readers through 6th grade. That’s in a bill sponsored by Rep. Dana Traulsby (R-Fort Peirce).

House Speaker Chris Sprowls has made addressing literacy issues a priority this session. He says reading is essential for a child’s future.

“Access to books is something that can change a child’s life. They can read one book and see themselves in their future and plan a whole new world for themselves for their future and for prosperity for them and their family,” Sprowls says

Sprowls says he’s seen student performance make strides over recent years, but he says if that positive movement continues at the current rate it could take more than 200 years before the majority of Florida students could read at grade level. He hopes the measures passing out of the House will help to speed that along.

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