No on SB 614: Eliminating teachers’ competency exam fails to address California’s crisis in reading instruction

Teachers need to know–and demonstrate their knowledge of–the science of reading in order to effectively teach their students.

By Cheri Rae

California parents and taxpayers alike expect that teachers know how to teach children to read, and assume that they had to demonstrate that knowledge before earning a teaching credential.

That is currently the case. But it would not be if SB 614 passes and becomes law.

The bill would eliminate the requirement that teachers pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment (RICA). It would also eliminate current requirements that they master the science of reading and remove language from the state’s Education Code that describes the essential research-based components of literacy. It is currently in the Assembly Education Committee, and scheduled for a vote on July 10,

This bill will make a bad situation worse. According to statistics released by the California Department of Education in 2018, more than half (52 percent) of the state’s third-graders cannot read at grade level. Eliminating competency assessments of teachers does nothing to their skills at teaching reading.

The real issue is poor teacher training. Current programs fail to adequately prepare potential teachers to understand and teach the science of reading. The remedy is better instruction when student-teachers are still in college, not eliminating instruction and assessments that demonstrate their competence—or reveal their lack of it.

Case in point: Just last month, in my role as an advocate for dyslexic students, I was called in to help a bright, motivated fifth-grader whose reading, writing and spelling skills are far below grade level.

It was a long, tense meeting about a student whose test results show high cognitive ability but low scores in all facets of reading. Even though he’s struggling, he is well-behaved, cooperative and motivated, but it’s unlikely he will ever reach his goal of becoming a scientist if he doesn’t learn to read. Soon.

His determined, resourceful mom has high expectations for her bright son and has done everything possible to work with him at home; to work with the public school system; and to find help in the community.

Eventually the principal turned to me and admitted, “You probably know more about teaching reading to these kids than we do.”

The classroom teacher avoided my eye and suggested a tutor—who charges $130 an hour. The special education teacher said that she might have some books about the science of reading in her garage. They all shrugged and looked away when I asked how many others on that campus are struggling to read just like this little boy.

The campus houses 700 students: do the math. It’s a few hundred kids. In just this one elementary school.

The example of this student is hardly unique—and there are millions more like him throughout the state. Right now it’s a Code Red crisis in the classroom when educators cannot teach students the essential literacy skills they need for academic success.

Potential teachers need more and better reading instruction, not less—and yes, they should be able to prove they’ve learned their lessons. In my work as an advocate, I have often met with teachers literally in tears because they were never taught the science of reading, and are poorly prepared to help struggling readers.

Senate Bill 614 ignores the pressing need for more and better literacy instruction—both for potential teachers and the students who eventually walk into their classrooms. They deserve better; so do the taxpayers of California who expect a better return on their investment, and the parents who entrust their children to teachers who should know how to teach them how to read.

Cheri Rae is the author of “DyslexiaLand: A Field Guide for Parents of Children with Dyslexia.” Learn more at