Kindergarteners work together during a reading intervention session Wednesday, January 23, 2019 in Katie Hoiland's kindergarten classroom at Aragon Elementary in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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Nearly a decade ago, Colorado lawmakers passed a splashy new reading law that sent tens of millions of dollars a year to school districts statewide to help struggling readers.

The money paid for summer school, full-day kindergarten, and tutoring programs for students in kindergarten through third grade, but those efforts barely made a dent in Colorado’s dismal passing rates on third-grade literacy tests or the percentage of students seriously behind in reading.

Something else came out of the 2012 reading law that produced more promising results: a competitive grant program with three-year awards for schools that agreed to overhaul reading instruction. Unlike the reading money spread across all districts, the smaller Early Literacy Grant program came with strict rules about how schools should improve reading instruction, plus considerable state oversight.

Overall, participating schools did improve — with some schools making huge gains and others improving modestly, while a few made no improvement.

But in a local control state where inconsistent approaches have complicated efforts to boost reading achievement, the grant program points to the benefits of whole-school reform and strong guardrails on spending.

Educators at some grant schools say the program was transformational, creating a cohesive system for teaching all students how to read and helping those who struggle.

“It is probably the best thing that ever happened at this school,” said Lisa Fillo, principal at Remington Elementary in Colorado Springs.


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