Accelerating Early Literacy: Policies and Investments to Scale What Works

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Reading is the foundational skill for school success, and research shows that reading proficieny at the end of third grade is a strong predictor of high school graduation and college attendance.

Prior to the pandemic, Arizona was making significant, steady progress in third grade reading. Still, less than half (46%) of our third graders passed (proficient or highly proficient) our state’s English language arts assessment in 2019.

Now, data from the 2021 state assessment shows that, consistent with national trends, Arizona youngest students experienced significant unfinished learning due to the pandemic. The percentage of our third graders passing the state assessment dropped to 35%, and long-standing achievement gaps among economically-disadvantaged students and other key subgroups grew even wider.

That’s why partners in Read On Arizona have deepened our commitment to taking a comprehensive, collective impact approach to accelerating progress toward school readiness and third-grade reading proficiency. That includes a shared early literacy policy agenda to help drive meaningful, large-scale change.

In June 2020, Read On Arizona convened representatives from the Governor’s Office, the Arizona Department of Education, State Board of Education, First Things First, Helios Education Foundation, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, legislative staff, and other education stakeholders for a three-day learning exchange with representatives from the State of Mississippi, which had seen impressive growth in reading scores after implementing a set of key early literacy strategies and policies. 

Informed by these and other evidence-based approaches, partners in Read On Arizona adopted an Early Literacy Policy Framework to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic by scaling up proven literacy strategies for high-needs schools serving the most struggling readers.

The policy framework outlines three priorities for strategic investments to improve early literacy outcomes in Arizona:

  • Strengthening educator capacity and new teacher preparation to dramatically increase the knowledge of educators and practitioners in the science of reading.
  • Intensive literacy coaching to support and sustain effective teaching and literacy practices for our most struggling schools and students.
  • Expanding high-quality early learning opportunities in high-need areas and a statewide kindergarten entry evaluation tool to help identify supports and services a child may need as they begin school. 

The collective support of these shared priorities among partners in Read On Arizona led to significant results. The Early Literacy Policy Framework informed early literacy legislation (SB1572) and guided recommendations resulting in over $100 million in new investments for early literacy in Arizona. 

These investments come at a critical time, as teachers face unprecedented challenges in helping our young readers move ahead. Every Arizona student deserves equitable access to high-quality reading instruction, and educators who have had access to professional development rooted in the science of reading are empowered to meet the needs of their students in the classroom.

Building educator capacity to ensure teachers have the tools and training they need to support every child’s learning is critical to reaching our collective goals for third grade reading proficiency. And providing effective supports for our most vulnerable students is part of a comprehensive approach to accelerating early literacy that puts us on the path to eliminating the achievement gap.

These new policies and investments are a great start. It’s up to all of us to build on this momentum and do even more to make it possible for every child in Arizona to reach their reading potential.

About Read On Arizona

Read On Arizona is our state’s early literacy initiative. Launched in 2013, partners in Read On Arizona take a collective impact approach to improving language and literacy outcomes for Arizona’s children from birth to age eight, with strategic focus on school readiness and third grade reading proficiency. Read On Arizona is a commitment among key stakeholders in education and philanthropy in Arizona to work together in coordination and alignment, share data, maximize investments, and take the strategic, comprehensive approach required to drive large-scale change. Learn more at