New Legislation Aims to Close California’s Early Reading Gap

by Lori DePole | March 3, 2024 | 1 Comment
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California’s reading crisis

Nearly three out of ten adults in California can’t read well. It’s one of the lowest literacy rates in the nation, and it matters. Adults who struggle to read have a tough time in life. They are more at risk of living in poverty, less likely to find a job, more socially isolated, and less likely to live healthy lives.

Lori DePole

Lori DePole,
Co-State Director, Decoding Dyslexia CA argues that AB2222 is vital for California

We depend on education to ensure that the adults of the future will be in a better position — but will they? More than half of California’s children aren't reading at grade level by the time they finish third grade and they don't have the skills they need for success in school.

Many struggling readers are from lower-income communities, especially if they are Black, Latino, English learners (ELs), or have disabilities. Nearly 70% of these students struggle with reading. Kids who aren’t reading proficiently by the end of third grade are 4 times less likely to graduate from high school and this increases to 8 times less likely for kids in poverty.

The problem is not the kids

What’s behind these disturbing statistics? It’s not the kids. It’s the failure of California schools to teach our children effectively.

We need to replace outdated instructional materials, invest in quality reading interventions, and improve instruction for educators about how to teach reading. We need to halt the damaging loop of illiteracy by providing evidence-based reading instruction early in a child’s schooling. Closing the reading gap early can set our children on the path to success.

If we could help everyone in California learn to read better, the economic benefit would be massive.

What needs to change?

Replace outdated teaching materials. It's been almost ten years since California last updated its list of instructional materials for English Language Arts/English Language (K-8).

Invest in quality reading interventions. Surprisingly, there are no state-approved reading intervention materials to help young kids in grades K-3 become better readers, even though research shows that helping them early makes a big difference. Some school districts are using materials based on literacy instructional practices that are outdated, ineffective, and sometimes harmful. Today, too many teachers and students are not provided with evidence-based instructional materials that adhere to the science of reading.

Improve teaching. The problem is not just about having better materials; it's also about making sure we provide better support for our teachers by training them in effective, evidence-based ways to teach reading. Unfortunately, according to research by the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ), many teacher prep programs are using outdated approaches or materials, especially in California.

With the right kind of reading instruction that follows the science of reading, almost all kids–over 90% of them–can become good readers.

The Science of Reading: A Path Forward

Learning to read doesn’t happen naturally—it has to be taught. Decades of scientific research have revealed a great deal about how reading skills develop. This body of knowledge from the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, education and others is referred to as the science of reading.

In the Ed100 blog
Too many students can’t read (by Megan Potente)

The research is clear about how children learn to read and why some students have difficulty. It describes the importance of additional language support for California’s 1.1 million English Learners who are learning to read while also learning English. It also has helped identify reading instructional practices that are not supported by research. This means we know how to solve this problem to better help kids learn to read.

Nationwide changes in how literacy is taught.

In recent years, more than a third of states have passed comprehensive legislation to follow the science of reading. There are encouraging signs of success.

For example, Mississippi, one of the leaders in early literacy reform, went from being ranked 49th in the country in 2013 for fourth grade reading to 21st in 2022. The state has made steady progress in reading scores for Black and Latino students and students from low-income communities. California, by contrast, hasn’t sustained the same progress. It is time for California to pass early literacy legislation that recognizes the diversity of the young children in our state.

Low-income 4th grade students in Mississippi consistently outscore those in California in reading. In 2022 just 25% of Mississippi’s low-income fourth graders scored at a level rated at least proficient for their grade level. In California the scores were even worse — only 18% did so. Source: Nation’s Report Card (NAEP).

Proposed legislation to improve reading: Assembly Bill 2222 (2024)

In our September 2, 2022 post “Too many students can’t read”, we listed seven key recommendations to help all students reach the goal of literacy by third grade by 2026. While California has made some progress toward our recommendations by passing K-2 universal screening for reading difficulties and new literacy teaching standards for schools of education, it has fallen short of comprehensive literacy reform.

Specifically, California schools need to replace outdated instruction, invest in better curriculum, and better teach educators how to teach reading. Assembly Bill 2222 by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio proposed to close these gaps. The measure secured bipartisan support from 13 co-authors, and was co-sponsored by Decoding Dyslexia CA, EdVoice, and Families In Schools.

[ Editor's note, April 2024: Lacking support from the California Teachers Association, the legislation died. The sponsors have indicated that they will try again in the next legislative session. ]

Listen to a podcast about this legislation on EdSource:

AB 2222 (2024) would:

  • Require instructional materials to follow the science of reading for English Language Arts (ELA) and English Language Development (ELD).
  • Make sure that teachers in elementary school get support and training so they understand evidence-based ways to teach reading, including in meeting the unique needs and assets of California’s English learners.
  • Check that teacher training programs are doing a good job so that new teachers are ready to teach kids how to read when they enter the classroom.
  • Recognize that early literacy instruction aligned with the science of reading is also critical for students who are English learners but that they will need extra support to bolster their oral language as they learn to read and write in a new language.

Closing Thoughts

Literacy is a civil right.

Literacy is a fundamental civil right and should be handled with the same urgency as any other social justice issue. With instruction that follows the science of reading, almost all kids–well over 90% of them – can become good readers. This is an incredible moment of opportunity for California to take action on literacy and implement substantive reform.

Learn more about this important legislation at

Lori DePole is the Co-State Director of Decoding Dyslexia CA and a certified Structured Literacy Interventionist. Lori has previously served as a board member and Treasurer of Project Second Chance, Inc., supporting the Contra Costa County Library’s Adult Literacy program, and as a board member of the International Dyslexia Association/NorCal branch. She has volunteered for over 18 years in providing education advocacy assistance and structured literacy tutoring to foster youth that struggle with reading through a non-profit organization in Contra Costa County. Lori has been involved in California legislation since 2015 including legislation that resulted in the CA Dyslexia Guidelines, new literacy standards for teacher preparation programs, and K-2 universal screening for reading difficulties, including risk of dyslexia.

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Jeff Camp - Founder April 13, 2024 at 7:16 pm
The legislation died with opposition from the teachers union.
©2003-2024 Jeff Camp
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