Members of the General Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus are looking to attack Connecticut’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gap by introducing a statewide reading program.

The bill would create a standardized program to ensure that students achieve a basic standard of reading by the third grade. Research has suggested that some of the fundamental deficiencies that contribute to the achievement gap can be traced to the years between pre-kindergarten and the third grade.

In addition to the standardized third grade comprehension test, the bill would implement an enhanced reading program for young students, and would invest in new teacher training schemes to facilitate such a program.

On Monday, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the legislature’s Education Committee that many elements of the bill are amenable to the governor’s omnibus education package, and continually referenced his efforts to communicate with
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, the chair of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus, thanking him for his “exemplary leadership” on the issue.

Pryor said that Malloy’s bill intentionally places an emphasis on early education reading standards as one of the conditions for the receipt of state aid to school districts. Pryor also pointed to $300,000 in the governor’s bill for a new reading comprehension testing mechanism that Holder-Winfield has been championing.

The bill was praised by Republicans Rep. Gail Lavielle and Sen. Toni Boucher— signaling it has bipartisan support.

Lavielle said she was impressed while reading the bill and Boucher sought reassurance from Pryor that the governor would incorporate most of it into his omnibus education package.

One potentially controversial element of the bill would hold students back in summer school and potentially prevent graduation from the third grade if students failed the proposed literacy test, at which point a number of intensive reading classes and programs would kick in.

The bill would also establish a standard that teachers whose classes perform poorly on the 3rd grade reading test in 3 consecutive years would no longer be allowed to teach in the early pre-literacy years, and could only teach students who had already achieved the literacy benchmark.

Holder-Winfield said that the a “notion of not embarrassing the student” was not a good enough reason to not go forward with a data-driven testing program.

“Our point is to retain and fix,” he said.

Is Holder-Winfield happy with the administration’s cooperation on the issue?

“Absolutely,” he said.

Opposition to the bill comes primarily from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

In written testimony, CCM said that the bill creates an unfunded mandate, pointing out Connecticut’s already heavily property-tax reliant school funding structure.

Eric Bailey, the spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut, said that the union strongly supports the bill, calling is a “tremendous effort toward addressing one of the critical factors of learning, which is reading.”

Bailey commended the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, saying that the bill demonstrated “real leadership on their part.”

“It’s good to see that legislators want to work together with all the stakeholders,” he said.