The West Virginia Senate approved a bill Tuesday to help students in kindergarten through third grade improve their literacy and numeracy skills, but not before amending it to include yearly dyslexia screenings for students.
Senators passed an amended version of Senate Bill 274, also known as the Third-Grade Success Act. The legislation now advances to the House of Delegates.
The bill would retool the state’s approach to early education and seeks to close the gap in reading and math scores, which were below average in the last National Assessment of Educational Progress and have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers said.
The legislation’s lead sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chairman Amy Grady, R-Mason, said the bill outlines a multi-faceted framework for early education. It also provides training to help educators identify the characteristics of dyslexia and dyscalculia, a math learning disorder.
Before passing the bill, the Senate approved an amendment from Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, that added the yearly dyslexia screenings.
Rucker’s amendment establishes an approved list of dyslexia screeners to be administered to students no less than twice a year in kindergarten through third grade, or any time students with identified deficiencies are not responding to interventions.
The International Dyslexia Association and the National Center on Improving Literacy agree that screening for dyslexia multiple times a year is the best practice, Rucker said.
“And that is because some students with dyslexia do not show. They are able to pass basic screening tests, are able to memorize words. Their dyslexia takes time to really demonstrate itself,” Rucker said. “This amendment basically just does what they recommend for best practice.”
Grady supported the amendment.
“This language strengthens the portion of the bill that does require screening for dyslexia to allow teachers to be able to identify those characteristics and identify kids at an earlier age,” she said.
The bill would place Early Childhood Assistant Teachers, or interventionists, in every kindergarten through third-grade classroom. This would take effect July 1 for kindergarten, and on July 1 of the following two years for second and third grades, respectively.
The bill would phase in increases in the service personnel funding ratio, to ensure sufficient financing for county boards of education to hire assistant teachers.
SB 274 would establish professional development for educators, including the assistant teachers, that would help them use approved benchmark assessments conducted three times a year to identify student deficiencies in reading and math.
The legislation also provides teachers and assistants with training on how to teach using the science of reading, which focuses on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
The science of reading is the center of an early reading initiative launched by the West Virginia Department of Education. State schools Superintendent David Roach has said the legislation would bolster the department’s efforts.
According to the bill, effective July 1, 2026, students who have not corrected reading deficiencies by the end of third grade could be retained upon recommendation from their teacher and the student assistance team.
Roger Adkins covers politics. He can be reached at 304-348-4814 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RadkinsWV.