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Legislative Influences on Reading Instruction

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

When you teach reading, you choose the approach that best suits your class's needs. The legal system guides you in regards to reading content and about the necessary measures if reading skills are not at grade-level. This lesson discusses these legal aspects.

Legal System Helps Educators

Education laws contain considerations so that schools work within certain standards that include reading content, retention, etc. This means that your work as an educator is regulated, including reading instruction. Let's explore how laws work you while you teach reading. For easy understanding, we will follow Amy, a teacher, as she applies the necessary laws to her daily work: Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and some third-grade reading laws.

ESSA and Reading

In December 2015, Congress re-enacted the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Now, its name is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and it includes new provisions. The ESSA replaces the 'No Child Left Behind Act', and these four main aspects affect reading instruction:

First, ESSA reinforces the essential components of reading. We find these under Section 1208(3) of the ESEA. These essential components are:

  1. phonemic awareness.
  2. phonics.
  3. vocabulary development.
  4. reading fluency, including oral reading skills.
  5. reading comprehension strategies.

Second, with ESSA, reading assessment is mandatory. In short, ESSA establishes that students from third through eight grade must test annually in reading. Also, students from ninth through twelfth grade must test in reading at least once during the four years.

Third, with ESSA reading assessment is not the only measure of achievement. ESSA mandates states to establish challenging academic standards to make sure students perform at grade level. For example, Amy's students in third grade take annual reading tests. In addition, they have other assessments that include classwork, presentations, etc.

Fourth, ESSA considers the reading needs of English language learners. Let's get back to Amy. This year, her class has students who come from non-English-speaking countries. Luckily, ESSA maintains funding to provide reading instruction to English Language Learners (ELLs). This means that Amy can have the assistance of a specialized teacher who specifically assists ELLs.

IDEA and Reading Instruction

The law that protects the rights of students with disabilities is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law is clear and simple: students with disabilities have the exact same right to education as any other student. When it comes to reading, the law makes it clear that students with disabilities have the right to receive appropriate reading instruction.

Appropriate instruction in reading for students with disabilities includes essential components of reading, but also the specific approach to attend to the needs of students with disabilities. Approaches can include but are not limited to Braille or other media for reading/writing for blind students, scientifically based reading instruction for students with reading disabilities, application of strategies to address the needs of students with another disability, etc.

Similar to what happens with funding for English language learners, IDEA refers to the available funding that schools can access in order to develop their programs to assist students with disabilities.

Third-Grade Reading Laws

Some states have passed what we know as 'third-grade reading laws'. We refer to these as third-grade reading laws because students learn to read between pre-kindergarten and third-grade. Once students finish third grade, they are ready to use their reading skills to learn important content in diverse subjects. In other words, the 'learning to read' stage is over.

It all depends on the state where you teach though, so it is always best to check with your local Department of Education because laws change all the time. However, as of November 2016, if reading skills are still not at grade level, the following is important to know:

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