Rennie Testifies on Literacy Bill at MA State House

On June 6, Rennie's Director of Policy, Alexis Lian, testified to the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Committee on Education during a hearing on a number of bills including H.579 and S.263, An act to promote high-quality comprehensive literacy instruction in all Massachusetts schools. Her remarks are below.

  • Good afternoon. Chair Lewis and Chair Garlick, members of the Joint Committee on Education, and other esteemed education leaders.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the impact that high-quality literacy instruction can have for students across the Commonwealth. It is a privilege to be here.
  • I am Alexis Lian, Director of Policy at the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy.
  • The Rennie Center’s mission is to ensure education decision-making is based on deep knowledge and evidence of effective policy making and practice. 
  • High-quality literacy instruction is an issue that the Rennie Center has long been invested in. 
  • We also run CURATE, Curriculum Ratings by Teachers, another initiative out of DESE that convenes panels of Massachusetts teachers to review and rate evidence on the quality and alignment of specific curricular materials.2
  • In a world of competing priorities in education, it can feel difficult to make decisions about which initiative, program, or strategy should take precedence over the other. 
  • When it comes to high-quality literacy instruction, however, this is an area that the Rennie Center feels serves as the foundation to nearly all other areas of education.
  • This issue is urgent, but solutions to address literacy challenges are clear and backed by research. There has been a convergence of evidence on what works when it comes to teaching children to read commonly referred to as, “The Science of Reading.”
  • First, implement high-quality instructional materials that include systematic and explicit foundational skills instruction with ongoing, robust implementation support for educators.
  • Research tells us that the impact of switching from lower quality to higher quality curriculum materials is:
  • In the classroom, this should include:
    • A core literacy block inclusive of foundational skills instruction, opportunities to read and listen to complex texts, and systematic writing instruction.
  • A high-quality curriculum should embed direct teaching of foundational skills to contribute to the development of fluent reading.5 Evidence-based foundational skills instruction includes:
    • Print concepts (Grade K),
    • Phonological awareness (Grades K-1),
    • Advanced phoneme awareness (Grades 2-3),
    • Phonics and decoding (Grades K-5), and
    • Fluency (Grades 1-5).
  • Second, paired with access to high-quality instructional materials, research shows that regular early literacy screening is critical for targeting student needs
  • We often wait far too long to intervene when students are experiencing difficulty in reading, only providing services after students perform poorly on state or school administered assessments.
  • Screening students in early elementary grades, identifying particular areas of need, and targeting support through differentiated instruction is essential.
  • Finally, educators must have access to professional development that prioritizes supports for implementing high-quality instruction and necessary scaffolding for differentiation.6 
  • In summary, research shows that when early literacy instruction follows the principles outlined above, 95 percent of students (or more) will learn to read. Right now, less than half of students in Massachusetts can read proficiently by third grade, making this issue particularly urgent.
  • We know how to ensure students can read. The issue to consider is are we doing everything we can to make sure all districts, schools, and educators are taking the necessary steps to make what we know is possible a reality. 
  • Thank you. 


Please note that the Rennie Center does not advocate for this or any other specific bill. Instead, this testimony is intended to share research and best practices to support legislators in their decision making process.