School Librarians in the  District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS)

Bill 24-443, “Students’ Right to Read Amendment Act of 2021”

Jessica Giles

State Director

Democrats for Education Reform DC

Good morning Chairman Mendelson, members, and staff of the Committee of the Whole; my name is Jessica Giles. I am a ward seven resident and the State Director of Democrats for Education Reform DC (DFER DC). DFER DC is dedicated to eliminating racial inequity and discrimination in our public education system by advancing student-centered policies. Librarians are important, and they provide valuable services that support literacy at D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools. Today, however, the bulk of my testimony will focus on an evidence-based approach for ensuring ALL students in Washington, D.C. can read proficiently.

A child’s ability to read directly impacts their future educational gains, attainment of a livable income, and overall quality of life. While D.C. public schools have made progress in fourth-grade reading over the last 14 years, 70 percent of fourth-graders in D.C. scored below proficiency levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, in 2019.[1] When disaggregated, these numbers are much worse for certain student groups. 93 percent of students with disabilities scored below proficiency. 89 percent of English Learners scored below proficiency.[2] 81 percent of Black students scored below proficiency.[3] 73 percent of Hispanic/Latino, any race students scored below proficiency.[4] 81 percent of students who were eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) scored below proficiency.[5]

The pandemic has only worsened these inequities. EmpowerK12’s most recent report, which analyzed end-of-year leveled reading assessments, found that on average, about half of all early elementary school students demonstrated that they were on or above grade level in spring 2021, representing an 18-percentage point drop from their K-2 peers in 2019. Declines in reading were more significant for students designated at-risk. They experienced a 27-percentage point drop.[6]

We are in the midst of a reading crisisWe need a District-wide intervention, one based in the science of reading — a decades-long, interdisciplinary and proven body of knowledge that provides a deeper understanding of how we learn to read. 

This body of research informs the best approach for teaching basic reading skills: structured literacy. Structured literacy helps all students, including children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, read and write.It contains the foundational elements that are critical for reading comprehension: phonological awareness[7]; sound-symbol association; syllable instruction[8]; morphology, which is the study of base words, roots, prefixes, and suffixes; word recognition; syntax; and semantics. But how educators teach structured literacy is just as critical. Educators start by introducing the easiest and most fundamental concepts first and gradually progress to more complex concepts. All concepts require consistent student-teacher interaction, and instruction is based on a continuous assessment to ensure the student has fully grasped the material. 

For ​far too long, educators in Washington, D.C., have not been given the opportunity to even learn structured literacy instruction. If we want to ensure all our students can read proficiently, we must ​​require all K-3 DCPS and DCPCS educators to be comprehensively trained in the science of reading.

And we can do this. Mississippi was ranked 49th in 4th grade reading in 2013 before they passed the Literacy Based Promotion Act.[9] All K-3 educators received comprehensive training in structured literacy administered by the Barksdale Institute and LETRS. Literacy coaches were placed in lowest-performing schools. They required all elementary educator preparatory programs to provide substantive coursework in the science of reading. Within five years, Mississippi was ranked 29th in fourth-grade reading. Mississippi was the sole state to produce significant gains in student reading scores and ranked third nationally for low-income students in the fourth grade, and seventh for scores among Black students. 

We commend the D.C. Council for passing and funding the Dyslexia and Other Reading Disabilities Screening and Prevention Pilot Program Act of 2019.[10] We applaud the Office of the State Superintendent of Education for developing a five-year literacy plan attached to a $16 million federal grant to improve literacy for students, and all of the truly impactful work the DCPS Reading Clinic is doing to train over 100 teachers a year in structured literacy. We must move expeditiously to ensure every educator has the support they need to teach students how to read proficiently and to eradicate these unacceptable opportunity gaps in literacy outcomes. Thank you for allowing me to testify.

[1] DC School Report Card.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Empowerk12. “Update on unfinished learning in DC.” November 2021. Source:

[7] Phonological awareness is the awareness that oral speech is composed of sub-parts; a lack of phonological awareness represents the most common source of word-reading difficulty in early readers. It’s hard for many to imagine — but awareness that “cat” is made up of the sounds /c//a//t/ is a fundamental, prerequisite skill to reading — even more than knowing that the letter “c” is called “c.”

[8] Syllable instruction is instructing students on the way we read syllable-types. There are six syllable types: closed (i.e. “got”), open (i.e. “go”), vowel-consonant-e (pole), vowel team (goal), consonant-le, and r-controlled, and the type determines how we read the vowel; kids have to learn the types (and how to read multisyllabic words) systematically. 

[9] Literacy-Based Promotion Act. Source:

[10] Law 23-191 establishes a dyslexia and other reading disabilities screening and intervention pilot program for public school students to be implemented by the State Superintendent of Education. Source: