Kindergarten teacher Katie Hoiland holds a reading intervention session Wednesday, January 23, 2019 with kindergarteners at Aragon Elementary in Fountain-Fort Carson. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s education department will spend up to $5.2 million over six years on a consultant charged with determining why the state’s 2012 landmark reading law failed to produce significant gains for struggling readers.

The unusual external audit, to be conducted by the nonprofit WestEd, will dig into how the state’s schools are using about $40 million a year meant to boost third-grade reading proficiency. The review could last up to six and a half years.

state law passed last spring mandated the external evaluation and other steps intended to improve the 2012 law, known as the READ Act. The recent legislation came in the wake of ongoing criticism from lawmakers, parents and literacy advocates about the law’s effectiveness.

MORE: Colorado spent $231 million to help young children catch up on reading. But rates of kids with significant deficiencies only worsened.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on reading intervention since the READ Act’s inception, just over 41% of Colorado third graders met or exceeded grade-level standards on the state’s 2019 literacy test. The percentage wasn’t much different — 38.2% — in 2015.

The act requires schools to identify struggling readers in kindergarten through third grade and draw on state-approved approaches to help them improve.

The planned evaluation marks a shift toward greater oversight of how districts are helping struggling readers and a new focus on ensuring the state’s money isn’t wasted.

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Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat Colorado

Senior reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado. Email: Twitter: @annschimke