SHERIDAN — As K-12 schools ramp up for the final stretch of the academic year, a couple legislative bills signed last month by Gov. Mark Gordon could change future courses in small ways.
House Bill 199 affects the potential for virtual education, while House Bill 297 impacts reading programs in kindergarten through third grade.
HB 199 creates an exception to existing virtual education laws and allows one school district to provide “remote education” to another school district. For example, it would let a teacher instruct some students in-person while a student from another school attends class through video conferencing.
In general, the bill allows school districts to collaborate more easily without being caught up in enrollment numbers and funding.
Sheridan County School District 1 superintendent Pete Kilbride said the bill won’t impact SCSD1 too much initially but could increase future possibilities. He shared the previous example of a student at Tongue River High School who took a French class remotely through Sheridan High School.
“It’ll sure open up the doors for those of us that are struggling to find teachers,” Kilbride said. “We’re about personalized learning, and if a kid really wants French and I can’t get a French teacher here, it’d be neat to be able to partner with a neighboring school that has it and still make that happen.”
Sheridan County School District 3 superintendent Charles Auzqui said the bill will make it easier for SCSD3 form a partnership with Johnson County School District 1, for example.
Sheridan County School District 3 business manager Greg Rohrer said the bill could particularly help with computer science courses in middle school and high school.
“I think mostly we’ll try to use technology to just connect them and do it that way,” Rohrer said.
Sheridan County School District 2 assistant superintendent said the district is not looking closely at virtual education at the moment because it can provide an array of classes in person. The bill would more likely affect smaller school districts that have more limited course offerings.
HB 297 requires school districts to use screening instruments to better identify reading difficulties and implement an evidence-based intervention program at the elementary school level.
It also requires improvement plans for schools where less than 85 percent of third grade students are reading at grade level.
Craft said the bill will not much alter the system already in place at SCSD2. The school district uses benchmark reading assessments like Fountas and Pinnell to assess its students. Reading screenings occur three times in kindergarten and at least two times in first through third grade.
The literacy assessments at SCSD2 are all observation-based. They generally entail a student reading out loud while a teacher listens and grades the student’s performance based on benchmarks. The instructor then asks a few comprehension questions to which the student responds verbally.
Craft said the 85 percent mark shouldn’t cause too much concern, as most of the elementary schools are at or above the number.
Kilbride said the bill will slightly change assessments in SCSD1, especially for students with dyslexia who have a more difficult time reading.
“It’ll enhance what we’re currently doing,” Kilbride said. “Then the next big question is, ‘What strategies (and) interventions can we use with dyslexia specifically?’ It’s just not an area that we’ve had much experience with … Now there are so many forms of dyslexia. It’s not just reversing your Bs and your Ds. Now it’s a whole slew of things, which again is great that we’re able to diagnose, (but) now we gotta figure out how to intervene.”
Kilbride said elementary teachers will look at different dyslexia screening options around the state and hopefully add one over the summer.
Kilbride said the district completes about 90 minutes of reading interventions every day at the elementary level to ensure that as many students as possible are up to speed.
“It is a huge focus,” Kilbride said. “… If we can’t get them to grade level reading by third grade, we’re really doing a disservice.”
In different way, the bills will subtly impact school districts’ directions going forward.