Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole at the Public Roundtable on Student Literacy in the District

Jul 14, 2022

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. My name is Anne Herr and I am the Director of School Support at the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that every student can choose high-quality public schools that prepare them for lifelong success.

I want to start by thanking State Board of Education (SBOE) Representative Allister Chang for championing improved literacy programming across the District. His leadership in recent years has helped spur a coordinated approach to improving student literacy, and we’re immensely grateful for that. We’re also grateful to you, Chairman Mendelson, and the Council for your sustained leadership ensuring schools and educators receive appropriate guidance and training to ensure science based reading programs, screenings and appropriate interventions are available for all students.

In fact, thanks in part to the Council’s work, along with the focus and dedication of countless teachers and school leaders, the District has seen steady improvement in reading proficiency rates in the District. Without question, the pandemic has presented additional challenges to addressing student literacy barriers, and charter school leaders are deeply focused on using all available levers to further improve literacy instruction and targeted interventions for students who need them.

Today I want to point to three initiatives the Council and City have led on that are advancing student literacy learning, including legislation passed by the Council in recent years, the District of Columbia’s Comprehensive Literacy Plan, and the recently passed Budget Support Act which created the Early Literacy Education Task Force. Together, they provide the necessary framework to refine existing literacy plans as well as develop and implement new initiatives to rapidly improve literacy rates, especially for students designated at-risk. But it will take schools, parents, the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE), the SBOE, the DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB), and other advocates working together –– with urgency –– to accomplish.

Addressing Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties Amendment Act of 2020

I want to start by thanking you, Chairman Mendelson, for your leadership in sponsoring and securing Council approval of the Addressing Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties Amendment Act of 2020. This comprehensive legislation was designed with a series of timelines intended to ensure all public schools implement science-based reading programs, improve guidance and training for educators, require universal screenings to identify children who may have reading disabilities and implement systems of interventions to address them.

This is a four year project, and we need to ensure we’re giving all the stakeholders involved space to properly implement it. Right now, the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) is preparing guidance and training to provide teachers and other educators the tools they need to identify and address reading difficulties. And, they are working to make sure that all LEAs have a science-based reading program in place by the 2024 – 2025 school year.

District of Columbia’s Comprehensive Literacy Plan

Additionally, in 2020, OSSE received a five year, $16 million grant to develop the District of Columbia Comprehensive Literacy Plan. Together with stakeholders across the District, including from the SBOE, public charter schools, and DCPS, OSSE put together a plan that aims to provide effective, science-based literacy instruction to learners of all ages in our schools and early childhood education programs.

That plan is a roadmap intended to guide LEAs in developing their literacy plans grounded in evidence-based practices. We’re grateful for all the hard work by OSSE and other stakeholders who worked tirelessly to put together such a comprehensive roadmap. Now, our schools are working hard to take that plan forward and use it as a guide to develop their own plan locally. That takes time.

Budget Support Act Created the Early Literacy Education Task Force

Finally, I want to point to a more recent action taken just a few months ago by this Council that will support improving literacy instruction in the District. The Budget Support Act of 2023 established an Early Literacy Education Task Force which will include representatives from the City, DCPS, and public charter schools. Once convened, the group is tasked with identifying steps to accomplish specific goals over the next four years. Those goals include providing structured literacy trainings for teachers and other educators, mechanisms to track completion of those trainings, educator access to evidence-based, culturally responsive, high-quality instructional materials, and on-the-job support for educators from experts.

With the report not due until September 2023, that work has only just begun.

Moving Forward

We greatly appreciate the Council’s diligence in focusing on improving literacy rates among our students. The historic funding for schools passed for this upcoming year will go a long way in supporting LEAs and their efforts in refining their literacy programming. Right now, the DC Charter School Alliance is continuing to coordinate with our member schools and engage with OSSE, the DCPCSB, the SBOE, DCPS, parents, and other community stakeholders to raise literacy rates with the tools we’ve already been provided. And we’re doing so with urgency. We look forward to continuing to work together on this critical issue with the Council to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to further improve outcomes for all students.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.