Tyson Smith: Utah’s new literacy bill is an achievement worth celebrating

Tyson Smith, CEO of Reading Horizons 

Utah Bill signing for S.B. 127

Reading Horizons CEO Tyson Smith attended the ceremony of Governor Spencer Cox signing Utah bill S.B. 127 into law.

On March 23, 2022, Governor Cox signed into law S.B. 127, which provides $9.4 million for one-time spending and another $9.6 million for ongoing support to improve early literacy outcomes and increase third-grade reading scores across the state. This much-needed investment in our state’s literacy programs comes with an ambitious goal: ensuring that 70% of Utah students reach third-grade level proficiency on state-administered reading assessments by July 1, 2027. 

While 95% of third graders nationwide are cognitively capable of reading proficiently, data shows that 64% simply are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Of this 64%, an estimated 1.7 million of these third-graders may never catch up. That impacts the trajectory of their lives permanently and it impacts our communities and strength as a nation. In Utah, while reading achievement has been slightly ahead of the national average, 50% of our third-grade students are not reaching grade-level proficiency according to the Utah State Board of Education. As a parent, a community member, and the CEO of Reading Horizons, a Utah-based literacy provider, I feel these numbers at my core. 

Since our founding in 1984, the team at Reading Horizons has worked closely and collaboratively with educators here in Utah and across the country. Over the years, they’ve shared their struggle to bring science-based reading instruction to their K-3 learners. These frontline, dedicated teachers want their students to succeed. To increase reading proficiency, it’s essential that we come together to support research-based reading instruction in every K-3 classroom. Empowering educators with training and materials that are grounded in the science of reading will be critical to generating the momentum needed to improve third-grade reading proficiency here in Utah.

So yes. S.B. 127 is a major step forward for our students, our educators and our state. While the funding has drawn headlines, the bill contains provisions focused on the science of reading and that deserves the brightest spotlight. These provisions go beyond funding to focus on establishing the infrastructure and support networks needed as teachers transition to programs that apply reading science to instruction. This initiative will fuel our state’s momentum in improving our students’ learning outcomes. These provisions will:

  • Provide, train, and assign literacy coaches to schools with low literacy achievement performance to provide early literacy coaching to K-3 teachers. This is something teachers and school administrators alike welcome. 
  • Establish a statewide panel with expertise in the science of reading and the science of reading instruction.
  • Require local education agencies (our state’s school districts) to adopt science of reading curriculum and intervention programs.

The passage of the new law is well worth celebrating. To make us realize its potential, now is the time to work together to turn this opportunity into lasting, measurable results. Working side-by-side with more than 10,000 schools and districts here in Utah and across the country, we have seen science-based reading instruction propel students forward so they are proficient readers by the end of third grade. Our students are ready. It’s up to us to commit and collaborate to keep pushing Utah forward.

Tyson Smith is the CEO of Reading Horizons, a Utah-based, leading literacy provider that supports educators with powerful, tech-enabled foundational reading instruction that helps all students reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade. He can be reached at tyson@readinghorizons.com.

Reading Horizons helps all students reach reading proficiency by third grade.
Contact Steffani Clark to discuss your foundational reading needs in Utah.

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