SALT LAKE CITY — At least 60 percent of Utah third-graders would have to read at or above grade level under new legislation approved Monday by the House Education Committee.
SB194, sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, would raise the current benchmark and ensure that struggling schools receive technical assistance to improve reading mastery.
Reading proficiency by the end of the third grade is a key factor in later educational success, Millner said.
A recent report by the Education Commission of the States said children who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school.
However, students who undergo reading interventions "are seven times more likely to become proficient. So if we do something, we can make a difference," Millner said.
SB194 also calls on local school boards to set proficiency goals, determine strategies to reach their goals and to report their results.
Future reporting to the state could include information that describes techniques or programs used to improve reading skills at the school level, Millner said.
"Only about 50 percent of our students are reaching proficiency. If you look at the last four years, we've made a small amounts of progress, but not significant progress," Millner said.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said he served on a working group during the administration of Gov. Olene Walker intended to improve early literacy statewide.
More than a decade later, lawmakers are talking about the same issue.
"My question is, what's the point? What's going to be different?" Hutchings said. "It doesn't seem like anyone changes anything."
Hutchings said his son has an individualized education program. In his family's experience, "our reading programs in the state of Utah suck. … They're absolutely, completely useless crap."
His family hired private reading tutors and went to the University of Utah Reading Clinic only to be told they need to read with their son 20 minutes a day, he said.
"I can't tell you how absolutely unimpressed I am with any interventions of any kind that we offer any student in this state. It's a joke," Hutchings said.
Millner said her bill is no "silver bullet. I think this is hard work."
The existing standard is low and needs to be raised, she said.
"I can't believe in Utah we're only 50 percent. I'm equally frustrated because it's our kids and it's their future that we've leaving behind," Millner said.
"Can we give up on them because we're frustrated? I don't think so because that's a child's life we're giving up on," she said.
The committee, with Hutchings making the motion to give the bill a favorable recommendation, voted unanimously to send the bill to the House of Representatives. Earlier, SB194 received unanimous approval in the Utah Senate.