Literacy – the ability to comprehend, create, and communicate the meaning of written or printed materials – is a critical component of human social interaction and economic life. A skill that typically emerges during early childhood, literacy has an overall impact on student learning – influencing how knowledge is acquired, and how information is analyzed. Children who struggle with acquiring literacy can become frustrated and detached from the learning experience, and frequently exhibit a progressive decline in academic achievement. Research has demonstrated that students who do not develop reading proficiency by the third grade will not only continue to struggle academically, but will be less likely to graduate high school. An examination of this research has led a majority of U.S. states to develop literacy education policies focusing on evidence-based literacy instruction and early intervention. In 2014, the State of South Carolina passed a comprehensive literacy mandate, aiming to address state-wide deficits in academic achievement. With a particular focus on third-grade reading proficiency, Act 284 (Read to Succeed) offered a systemic framework for teacher preparation, student instruction and early invention: affording South Carolina students the opportunity to attain the literacy skills necessary for academic and professional accomplishment.
In developing the Read to Succeed mandates, the state looked to address several key challenges. While earlier literacy initiatives (2000-2010) had led to some gains in overall performance, South Carolina still ranked in the bottom third of U.S. states on National Assessment of Educational Progress measures (2011). One-in-five 3rd grade students were reading below grade-level and a third of 8th grade students lacked reading proficiency. Achievement gaps were also noted among certain demographic groups, and a loss in reading achievement over summer breaks presented challenges to continued proficiency. With these statistics in mind, the following goals for state-wide literacy education goals were established:
- Improve overall reading achievement levels: increasing the number of students scoring as proficient or above, and reducing the number of students scoring at the lowest achievement levels
- Ameliorate the progress of historically underperforming readers.
- Reduce the number of students requiring post-secondary literacy intervention.
- Increase family involvement with childhood literacy development.
State stakeholders and literacy experts then formulated the basis of the comprehensive Read to Succeed program, comprising the following mandates:
State, District and School-wide Reading Plans: Research-based plans will be published annually, providing a framework for supporting reading achievement, and intervention models for struggling readers.
Early Learning and Literacy Development: Prior to enrolling in public school (Pre-K/Kindergarten) students will be given an Early Reading Readiness Assessment, designed to assist in identifying reading challenges at the very earliest stages. Students will be ensured of a language-rich learning environment, and will receive quality instruction from teachers trained in research-based literacy methods.
Grade-Level Proficiency: By the end of the 2017 school year, all 3rd grade students will be required to read at, or above, grade level. Students who do score at grade-level on a summative assessment will be assigned to a summer reading camp, and will be retained if required proficiency level is not attained.
Follow-up assessments will be given in the 5th, 8th, and 11th grades.
Reading Intervention: Students who demonstrate difficulties will be monitored and offered intervention until they attain grade-level proficiency. Those who are retained in the 3rd grade will be provided with additional support and reinforcement.
Teacher Preparation: Teacher preparation programs will be required to provide evidence-based literacy instruction methods, including coursework in reading foundations, reading instruction, and reading assessments. Prior to entering the classroom, new teachers will possess the ability to diagnose, monitor and assess reading problems – as well as provide appropriate intervention.
In-Service Educator Endorsements: In-service classroom teachers will be required to upgrade their education to the current standards of teacher preparation, including foundational knowledge in reading and writing theories, processes, and evidence-based instruction.
Reading Coaches: Reading coaches will help to develop school-wide reading plans, provide professional development to school faculty and staff, and assist teachers with student assessment, intervention and monitoring.
The Read to Succeed program was implemented across South Carolina in Fall 2014 – though not without dissension. One of the more controversial imperatives of Read to Succeed, the in-service educator endorsements requires that all educators – teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals – acquire a certain amount of literacy education credit hours within a designated time frame. Early Childhood, Elementary, Montessori, Special Education and ESOL classroom teachers must earn a Literacy Teacher endorsement, requiring 12 credit hours of college coursework. All other instructional and non-instructional educators must earn a Literacy Requirement, comprising 3 credit hours of college coursework. At the present time, it appears as though much of this additional training will be at the educators’ own expense.
Educators may choose to complete their endorsement requirements at one of several state-run academic institutions, or through district-level professional development. The Citadel’s Zucker Family School of Education offers two programs which meet the Read to Succeed Endorsements requirements, a Graduate Certificate and a Master of Education. Completion of the M.Ed. in Literacy Education program, when combined with a passing score on the Praxis II and requisite years of teaching experience, results in state certification as both a literacy teacher and a literacy coach. Successful completion of the Graduate Certificate in Literacy Education program will qualify teachers to be recommended as a Literacy Teacher in South Carolina. Both graduate program options offer teachers the opportunity to enhance their professional credentials, while meeting the Read to Succeed mandate. The M.Ed. option, however, should also assist in meeting a likely ever-growing need for literacy specialists and reading coaches. These literacy courses are available in online, in-person, and hybrid formats. Depending on the needs of students and schools, courses can be offered on The Citadel’s campus, at the Lowcountry Graduate Center, and at other convenient venues.
Although it will be some time before the overall success of the program can be measured, Read to Succeed remains a groundbreaking piece of legislation, certain to make a considerable impact in the lives of South Carolina students, teachers, and families.