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What You Need to Know: The Virginia Literacy Act

June 12, 2023


Throughout 2021, school leaders across the nation grappled with the impact of the unprecedented learning disruptions caused by the pandemic. However, in many ways, school closures simply shined a spotlight on longer-term problematic literacy rate trends. 

Virginia had already seen flat or declining reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2019 prior to the pandemic. Policymakers sounded the alarms because the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) results seemed artificially high compared to NAEP and other external assessments. In October 2022, NAEP scores confirmed educators’ fears about declining scores, but leaders in Virginia had already taken steps to act.  


Virginia’s Proactive and Bipartisan Commitment to Literacy 

In early 2022, a coalition of the state’s executive, legislative, and educational policy leaders passed new legislation known as the Virginia Literacy Act (VLA). This act mandates urgent and significant action to produce early, universal literacy. As the foundation of this legislation, Virginia leaders fully committed to implementing a Science of Reading approach to early literacy across the state–defining expectations for all districts, imposing limitations on curricula to promote fidelity of implementation, clarifying training for educators (including teachers, reading specialists, and teacher trainers), and dedicating resources for professional development and instructional materials. The Virginia Literacy Act passed unanimously out of the 2022 General Assembly, and as a result, support for these dramatic changes crossed partisan and ideological lines. 


The Science of Reading 

The Science of Reading (SoR) is a body of research collected over fifty years articulating how young learners learn to read. With an emphasis on phonics– connecting sounds and sights of letters, syllables, and words– and the ability to engage in decoding unfamiliar words, the Science of Reading aims to build a foundation for lifelong learning.  

There are five fundamental components to the Science of Reading:  

  • Phonological awareness 

  • Phonics 

  • Fluency 

  • Vocabulary 

  • Comprehension.  

The Science of Reading provides an evidence-based plan to combat persistently low literacy rates. The culmination of decades of research provides a framework for professional development, instruction, and sequenced materials with which to engage students. And this approach's articulation comes at a time when policymakers are eager to find a solution for the literacy crisis.  


Leading the Nation with an Evidence-Based Response to the Literacy Crisis 

In committing to this comprehensive, multi-pronged, multi-year rollout with tools, resources, technical assistance, and funding from the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia leaders have put themselves on the forefront of educational changes that are spreading across the nation.  

The goal of the VLA is to ensure that all students can read by the end of third grade. At this point of development students should transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Reaching this goal of improving literacy outcomes for all students is based on the understanding that K-3 literacy underpins success of future growth and development. And new legislation is under consideration to extend this statutory and regulatory shift to grade four through eight. 

These shifts began in October 2022 with a curriculum review cycle to purchase new curriculum, which will lead to the selection of supplemental and intervention material to begin in 2023. Beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, Virginia K-3 students will receive instruction from evidence-based literacy curriculum, and any students falling below benchmark will receive intervention. Educational leaders will spend the current and next school year, and the summers of 2023 and 2024, educating parents, procuring materials, training teachers, and changing assessment systems to align with the Science of Reading.  

These efforts will:  

  • Align curriculum 

  • Set up standardized screening protocols 

  • Define intervention methods 

  • Require professional development based on the educator’s role 

  • Empower families with ways to support their children at home all to prepare the entire community with SoR research and evidence-based literacy instruction. 


Equipping Educators with Research-Based Tools 

The statute calls for the Virginia Department of Education to engage in significant work to assure cohesion with the SoR rollout. This includes reviewing and approving core curriculum, determining processes for approved interventions, and establishing standardized professional development.  

The creation of the Virginia Literacy Act Advisory Group, which held its first meeting in December of 2022, fulfilled one aspect of the legislation. This group will advise Department of Education staff through its anticipated conclusion in December 2024. Staffed by educators from across the state, with a broad cross-section of district sizes, experiences in diverse socio-economic communities, and with track records of success, the members of this group will ensure that the voice of experienced educators guides the decisions which will impact the early literacy experience of every public school student in the state. 

Teacher Training and Support 

Teachers, both in-service and in teacher education programs, must receive training in evidence-based literacy instruction. By no later than the fall of 2024, teachers must be using an evidence-based literacy curriculum from an approved list to be provided by the Department of Education. Every kindergarten through third-grade teacher must administer, document, and respond to results from state-approved literacy screeners. Student-level data must inform instruction, and any students falling below the state standardized benchmark must receive interventions as outlined in an “individualized student reading plan.”

Providing the Right Resources 

The legislation acknowledges that the effort to ensure universal literacy must extend to supporting teachers and students in multiple ways. The law mandates every districts, public charter schools, and other public education entities. create a local division-wide literacy plan in compliance with the state guidance which provides aligned professional development to teachers, reading specialists, and principals. Public education entities must staff at least one reading specialist for every 550 students in kindergarten through third grade. And state educational divisions must provide coaching and support for educators from regional literacy coaches. 

Engaging Families 

The VLA also promotes active parent involvement in students’ literacy development. Families must receive access to online resources, and schools are expected to actively ask for parent participation in the creation, monitoring, and adjustments to individual reading plans for students not meeting benchmarks. Reading specialists are identified as content area specialists that will partner with the teachers and families to coordinate and oversee the intervention development and monitor student growth on student reading plans. 

A Comprehensive Commitment to Early Literacy  

With new curriculum, effective materials, regular and aligned assessments, added support staff, family input into the intervention process, and greater consistency between schools and divisions across the state, Virginia has made a commitment to empower its students with literacy. The VLA guarantees that all educator preparation programs will require aspiring teachers to take coursework in evidence-based literacy instruction, that current teachers will receive extensive professional development, and that students will only use approved instructional materials.  

Because of this, the state’s students will have a solid foundation of literacy to read, write, and express themselves as they continue through school. And, without limitations of incomplete literacy development, they will be fully prepared to successfully pursue the college and career aspirations of their choice. 


Learn how DreamBox Reading helps VA educators accelerate PK-12 student literacy gains. Visit, https://www.dreambox.com/solutions-reading 

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