Good morning, Representatives, and thank you for allowing me to testify in favor of Senate Bills 567 and 568. My name is Ben Locke, and I’m the Michigan Executive Director of Teach Plus, an education nonprofit that seeks to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity, and student success. I’m also a former middle school and high school teacher who cringes at the memory of how I used to teach reading skills to students.

Currently, I work with teachers who have been advocating for these bills as they have worked their way through the legislative process. Those teachers have put in countless hours analyzing the bills, reaching out to lawmakers such as yourselves, suggesting improvements, writing op-eds, persuading other stakeholders, and giving public testimony before the Senate Education Committee.

The teachers I work with see why these bills are so desperately needed to help their struggling readers. Shannon, a third grade Spanish Immersion teacher, felt heartbroken for her student Jared, who was still reading at a kindergarten level when he reached her third grade class. It wasn’t until Shannon received LETRS training- the type of training more teachers would receive through these bills- that she understood how a child learns to read. This training came too late for her to help Jared.

Alyssa, an elementary special education teacher I work with, told me about her student Jon, who sees the word ‘bat,’ sounds out ‘/b/ /a/ /t/’ and says ‘dig.’ Jon’s brain is unable to connect these sounds, but without sufficient screeners or evidence-based supports in place, Jon wasn’t getting individualized instruction targeted at his specific needs.

Or take Carrie, a 4th grade teacher who was desperate to help her student Ally. Carrie felt like Mary Poppins, elbow deep in her carpet bag, pulling out every trick, every game, every book that she could think of to help Ally learn to read. Carrie’s search for the right instructional methods felt so desperate because, without proper support and training, it was unclear to her which methods were most effective.

Luckily, SB567 makes clear which instructional methods are appropriate within the narrow context of teaching struggling readers to decode, and which instructional methods are not appropriate. Section 24 of the bill provides clarity to teachers like Carrie, so that she doesn’t have to scramble around in her bag of tricks, looking for the best instructional methods to help Ally learn to decode.

Beyond the individual experiences of these three teachers from different parts of the state, data show why we must pass these bills. Michigan ranks seventh-worst in the nation for fourth grade reading scores. Michigan’s reading scores are the lowest they’ve been in 30 years. According to the NCTQ report on “Teacher Prep Review,” Michigan’s teacher preparation programs rank below the national average for the number of components its reading programs adequately address.

I’m concerned that if we fail to pass these bills, students like Jared, Jon, and Ally won’t get the help they need. I’m concerned that if we water down the language in these bills, clear guidance will become mere suggestions, which provide no incentive for the system to change. Why change if you don’t have to? I’m concerned that if we wait until all schools are fully staffed to screen students for dyslexia and provide them with evidence-based supports, thousands of students will continue to slip through the cracks. But right now, my hope outweighs my concern. I’m hopeful that you will vote “yes” on these bills, so that we can change the educational trajectory of students like Jared, Jon, and Ally for the better.

Thank you.