Child with a surprised expression holding an open book with glowing pages in front of books on shelves

New Mexico program aims to improve kids' reading skills

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(New Mexico News Connection) In the past four years, the way New Mexico children are taught to read has undergone a major shift. Following passage of a state law in 2019, the state's elementary teachers have received training in "structured literacy" and the science of reading.

Research shows kids learn to read when they are able to identify letters or combinations of letters and connect those letters to sounds. But teaching that skill is not always intuitive.

PROMO Map - New Mexico State Map - iStock - dk_photos

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Severo Martinez, Literacy and Humanities director, said there are more than 500 elementary schools in the state, and the two-year training occurs while teachers continue working in the classroom.

"Teachers of any discipline, they're teaching literacy skills, still -- even if they're a math teacher, if they're a science teacher, if it's social studies -- if you can't read, you can't do any of the assignments in any of those classes," Martinez explained.

In addition to boosting the number of students achieving reading proficiency, the program aims to reduce the number of students who require special education services.

This school year, the Public Education Department launched a reading challenge -- encouraging students to become "Superhero Readers" and "level up" their reading scores. Martinez even wrote a book for students focusing on the rich cultural diversity and history of New Mexico. He hopes it will all combine to make them proud adults -- eager to make a positive contribution to the world.

"With the Level Up Reading Challenge, we want to motivate students and supporting them in understanding the 'why' it is so important to learn to read and write - because that's going to open up a world of possibilities for them into the future," Martinez continued.

To catch common disabilities that stall reading proficiency, Martinez says New Mexico now requires that first-grade students receive screenings for dyslexia by the 40th day of the school year. Starting this summer, the Public Education Department will also offer tutoring to make sure all students achieve reading competence.