Kindergartener Lea Wickham during a reading intervention session with teacher Katie Hoiland at Aragon Elementary in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8. Aragon is one of the schools that showed drastic improvement in reading levels after using a competitive grant from the READ Act to overhaul teaching techniques. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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Colorado officials have ordered 15% of the state’s school districts to replace low-quality elementary reading programs, a major step toward enforcing a 2019 law that requires schools to use reading curriculum backed by science in kindergarten through third grade.

The state education department sent out dozens of letters in late October notifying districts that one or more of their schools use unacceptable reading curriculum and that district officials must submit plans by Jan. 17 for complying with the law. State officials said they likely will send more letters after clarifying what curriculum some districts are using.

Given Colorado’s local-control ethos and the wide latitude schools have long enjoyed in choosing curriculum, the state’s oversight effort is unprecedented and already appears to have prompted some of Colorado’s largest districts to adopt new reading programs.

But some literacy advocates worry that there are signs of state backpedaling after a recent decision by education department leaders to allow at least 14 districts to continue using a state-rejected reading program called ReadyGEN.

Even so, the state’s crackdown on K-3 reading curriculum seems to be working. Melissa Colsman, associate commissioner of student learning at the Colorado Department of Education, said only 41% of Colorado’s 178 school districts last spring met rules on K-3 reading curriculum. This fall, that proportion has risen to 63%.

Officials from the 90,000-student Denver district announced Thursday at a public literacy event organized by Chalkbeat that they’re piloting a state-approved reading program — Core Knowledge Language Arts — in some schools this year, with plans for a wider adoption in the coming year.


Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat Colorado

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