In summer of 2016, the Arkansas State Board of Education approved the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) rules governing how to meet the needs of children with dyslexia, based on state law passed in the previous legislative session. These rules were made effective October, 2016.
The rules governing how to meet the needs of children with dyslexia included mandates on screenings of children conducted by school districts, specifically mandated screening of all children in grades K–2 and optional screening for students in grade 3 or higher whom the teacher notes as having difficulty. Subsequent rules on intervention and services were also outlined.
Required instructional approaches for children identified with dyslexia markers include explicit, direct instruction and individualized instruction that follows evidence-based recommendations with a focus on multisensory instruction. School districts were mandated to report district statistics annually to the state.
The guidelines also make provisions for higher education programs to build dyslexia therapy programs and train teacher candidates on dyslexia. Teacher candidates must be taught the characteristics of dyslexia as well as evidence-based interventions and accommodations for dyslexia.
Teacher education candidates in the elementary and special education licensure areas were also mandated to take an additional test assessing their knowledge of the “science of reading.”
This test, the Pearson Foundations of Reading assessment, was chosen by a specially appointed committee based on Act 416 of the 2017 legislative session and was required of candidates enrolled in K–6 elementary or K-12 special education beginning in Fall 2017. This test is also required of teachers on additional licensure plans for K–6 elementary or K-12 special education and teachers applying for reciprocity for those named licensure areas.
Based on these mandates and rules, In January 2017, ADE announced a new statewide R.I.S.E (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence) Arkansas reading initiative to “build a culture of reading through stakeholder collaboration and provide additional instructional support to current and future teachers” (ADE Commissioner’s Memo Dated 1-26-18).
The memo cited the most recent ACT Aspire results (ACT, 2015) indicating 48.6 percent of Arkansas’ students in grades 3–10 were proficient and noting that Arkansas ranks in the lower third of states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The R.I.S.E initiative is focused on increasing the number of students who meet the ACT Aspire reading readiness benchmark by 10 percent within three years and to rise above the bottom third instate comparisons within five years. This initiative complements existing state reading initiatives, and the memo cites specifically the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) model adopted by many secondary schools in the state, as well as new ELA K–12 state standards replacing the formally adopted Common Core State Standards.
Specifically, the R.I.S.E. initiative focuses on increasing teacher knowledge of the science of reading, specifically expanding teacher knowledge of phonics and phonological awareness and the impact of these two reading components on fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing.
In line with this initiative, ADE has been building and encouraging structures for teacher professional development across the state to include workshops at districts and educational cooperatives, a state reading conference (spring 2017, spring 2018), the R.I.S.E academy, and an online “Science of Reading” professional development modules provided by the state’s only online teacher professional development system (available summer 2018, includes 18 content hours).
For the 2017–2018 school year, the R.I.S.E. academy provided intensive training to K–2 teachers in the primary and intermediate grades. Education service cooperatives and involved school districts hosted the academies. ADE provided training to more than 80 literacy specialists, including 40 lead trainers, to assist with the academies and train 1,000 K–2 educators. The academy is a year-long blended learning professional development with participants receiving coaching and targeted PD.
For the 2018–2019 school year, the R.I.S.E academy expanded its focus to train grades 3–6 educators as well as administrators with over 1,500 participants involved in the Summer 2018 training. Schools with teachers and administrators completing the training and who commit to promoting a culture of reading to strengthen reading instruction can apply to be certified as a R.I.S.E. school.