This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Colorado. More at chalkbeat.org.
Kaylee, an eighth-grader in a light blue hoodie, read a list of words, one by one, to teacher Jessica Thurby. She stumbled on a few: Debate came out “deblate,” sacred turned into “secret,” and defend became “define.”
The pair went over the missed words. As Kaylee took another stab at “sacred,” she said, “It looked like the word “scared.”
“It did,” Thurby said. “So, our brain automatically guessed. We’re trying to get out of that, remember?”
For students who reach middle school without strong reading skills, these misread words turn into roadblocks that impede understanding and make it harder to learn. A new program at Alameda International Junior/Senior High School in Lakewood seeks to help.
Launched last fall, Bright MINDS provides intensive reading help to 14 seventh and eighth graders with dyslexia or other reading challenges. School leaders plan to add a grade every year until Bright MINDS runs through 12th grade — with the ultimate hope that it will serve as a model for other schools in the 78,000-student Jeffco district and across the state.
Bright MINDS unfolds at a time when Colorado education leaders are keenly focused on improving early elementary reading instruction, with efforts including new training requirements for kindergarten through third grade teachers, and stricter guardrails on reading curriculum. But aside from a modest literacy grant program, state policymakers have given scant attention to the tens of thousands of secondary students who struggle with reading.
Students who can’t read proficiently face long-term consequences. They are at greater risk of dropping out, earning less as adults, and becoming involved in the criminal justice system.
Leaders at the state education department say their role in addressing older students who can’t read well is minimal because there’s no law equivalent to the 2012 READ Act, which mandates help for struggling young readers.
“Because there isn’t a statute similar to the READ Act, there is not a structure around literacy [in grades] four through 12,” said Floyd Cobb, executive director of teaching and learning at the Colorado Department of Education. “That responsibility is largely that of the districts.”