COLUMBUS — A group of state senators toured Emerson Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon to get a clear picture of how reading lessons are taught in local classrooms.
Patty Pansing Brooks and Lou Ann Linehan, who were joined at Emerson Elementary by Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, made the stop as part of their visits to schools across the state for legislative resolution 222, which calls for an interim study examining dyslexia and reading literacy in Nebraska.
“Emerson is a very good example of great teachers and great instruction,” said Amy Romshek, executive director of curriculum and instruction for Columbus Public Schools.
Each school visit by Pansing Brooks and Linehan, of Lincoln and Elkhorn, respectively, includes classroom observation with student and staff interaction.
Romshek gave a presentation on the district’s reading program for the senators, staff and others following visits to two classrooms.
The senators attended what CPS refers to as a 120-minute tier-one block of reading for all first-graders then sat in on a tier-two classroom of first-graders who have been identified as needing more instruction. That second class, called WIN (What I Need), is another 40 minutes.
Those tiers are for kindergarten through second grade. Third- through sixth-graders have 100 tier-one classes.
Romshek said Emerson traditionally has had “strong” student reading scores on standardized tests, but they were down a tick last spring after the state instituted new reading standards and testing assessments.
The school should see an upswing in reading scores next spring as teachers and students adjust to those changes, Romshek said.
In 2016, the Nebraska Legislature adopted LB645, which defined dyslexia as a specific learning disability in state law.
According to Department of Education estimates in the legislative resolution, there were more than 15,000 Nebraska children between 6 and 21 years old with learning disabilities in 2016, with between 80 and 85 percent having dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols, but do not affect general intelligence.
The purpose of the interim study is to look at dyslexia and reading literacy with a goal of developing strategies for teacher training, student assessment, student intervention and demonstrable student outcomes.
Early reading literacy has been linked with academic achievement, higher graduation rates, less contact with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems and greater productivity in adult life.
"We see reading as one of the most important things we teach," Romshek said. "Strong reading skills also help students do well in their coursework as they move through school."
Pansing Brooks and Linehan toured Lexington, Gothenburg, Grand Island and Hastings elementary schools and Doniphan-Trumbull earlier in the week. School visits in Omaha and Lincoln are also planned.