Feb 2, 2024 - Education

Iowa considers requiring "science of reading" in schools

Illustration of a letter "A" being lifted up by a construction crane hook.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A bill moving through the Iowa Senate would require elementary schools to teach the "science of reading" — a reading method that emphasizes phonics.

  • It would also ban teaching whole-word instruction, known as "three-cueing," and the methods associated with it.

Why it matters: Iowa is one of dozens of cities and states overhauling the way its schools teach reading, one of many attempts to close gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

State of play: A growing body of research suggests three-cueing doesn't work for large swaths of students and a change could boost low reading scores.

  • The strategy prompts kids to use clues or cues, such as visuals, syntax and context, to help identify or predict words.
  • Meanwhile, phonics encourages sounding out the word.

What they're saying: A center through the University of Iowa's College of Education has been promoting the science of reading since prior the new legislation.

Zoom in: A podcast produced through UI uses "cat" as an example for how kids learn with phonics.

  • Most children hear the word and know what it means.
  • However, they may struggle knowing it's made up of three different sounds, /c/ /a/ and /t/.
  • Research has shown that understanding how to break up and discern the sounds of the words must be done at an early age. Students are taught to sound out unfamiliar words which, in the long run, helps them process and retain the information.

The other side: Some education advocates say the bill's language is overreaching because it outright bans all instructional methods associated with three-cueing.

  • For example, Iowa Board of Regents representative Jillian Carlson said an ELL student may also benefit from the addition of visual cueing, IPR reports.
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