Oregon education officials have released a framework for early literacy — a set of guidance aimed at improving the state’s lackluster reading achievement — by offering a uniform set of goals and guidelines for teachers, administrators and community organizations across the state.
The new Early Literacy Framework aims to answer a growing clamor for consistency, coherence and higher standards in how Oregon approaches reading. With many states passing legislation to overhaul reading instruction, officials in Oregon see the new framework as a key step toward better reading outcomes. Educators and policymakers broadly agree that change is sorely needed, as Oregon’s reading scores fell by nine percentage points statewide last September.
The framework aims to fill what many parents and reading advocates see as a gap in state leadership in literacy. Oregon currently offers a list of approved reading curricula, but it doesn’t require school districts to use instructional materials from that list. The state’s deference to local districts has come into question recently, as support has grown across the country and in Oregon for a stronger emphasis on phonics and research-backed approaches known collectively as the “science of reading.”
The state’s new 100-page document spells out priorities, strategies and best practices — from calling on schools to create supportive learning environments for all students, to working proactively with parents and community organizations, to a clearer focus on evidence-based instructional approaches. The new framework includes an emphasis on the decoding of letters and phonics as key building blocks of literacy. It notes other important aspects of learning to read, such as vocabulary and oral fluency. The framework also leans on schools to look beyond curriculum and reading instruction to the importance of the broader context of where students are coming from, such as their motivation, language backgrounds and cultural differences.
In an overview of the framework, education officials say the new guidance is a “practical roadmap for elementary educators and school leaders to grow every student’s literacy skill using consistent, research-based approaches.” But the overview balances the emphasis on rigorous reading instruction with the importance of school culture, saying in order to learn to read, students “must feel like they belong and feel safe at school.”
“Oregon must make significant strides to improve the quality of literacy instruction and to ensure the experience of belonging in classrooms,” Governor Tina Kotek wrote in a news release. “This means ensuring that every student receives classroom instruction aligned to grade-level standards and thoughtfully informed by research and culturally responsive practices, and cultivating and strengthening community partnerships and family engagement to meet students’ strengths and individual needs.”
The new framework is closely tied to a reading initiative backed by Kotek, House Bill 3198, which initially promised $120 million, but could commit even more, to help schools improve reading outcomes. But that bill is stuck in the Oregon Legislature due to the Republican Senators’ walkout. Should that initiative pass, districts seeking money from it would be expected to use the new literacy framework to guide changes to reading instruction.
The framework comes out of the Oregon Department of Education and doesn’t require the Legislature’s involvement to have an influence on schools in the state. Kotek also used the power of the executive branch to initiate another literacy effort: an Early Literacy Educator Preparation Council of 20 reading experts expected to overhaul how teachers learn to teach reading.