May 13, 2015

Bill Could Increase Students Repeating Third Grade

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Nate Robson

Nate Robson

EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
May 13, 2015

Proposed changes to Oklahoma’s third grade Reading Sufficiency Act could nearly double the number of students at risk of repeating the grade, but would keep parents involved in the retention process for another three years.

Lawmakers spent several hours Wednesday negotiating a compromise between the House and Senate versions of Senate Bill 630. Both chambers have already passed different versions of the bill.

The major changes expand the number of students at risk of retention while also increasing the number of students who would receive reading remediation. Parents would also be kept in the decision to retain their children for another three years.

Parents were added to the process last year due to public push-back against the automatic retention of third graders who scored at the lowest level on the state’s reading exam.

Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed that bill, saying it encouraged social promotion, but the legislature overrode her the next day.

The current law, which was a stop-gap measure, only keeps parents involved until the end of the current school year.

Rep. Dennis Casey

Rep. Dennis Casey

Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, a co-author of SB 630, said he fears there could be more parental push-back this year because the bill increases the number of students at risk of retention.

The bill still needs to go back to the House and Senate for final approval. It would then go to the governor.

Nearly 8,000 students were at risk of retention when the law only applied to those who scored at the lowest level of the test – Unsatisfactory – when test results were released in May 2014. Applying the law to all students who were not reading at a proficient level last year would have placed an additional 7,000 students at risk of retention.

That would have put nearly 30 percent of the state’s third graders at risk of retention.

The department educators said they expected last year about half of the students at risk to earn one of six exemptions.

Exemptions included those in special education, those who do not speak English as a primary language, or those who use a portfolio of work to show they are proficient at reading.

Casey hopes expanding the law to provide remediation services to all students who are not reading at grade level as early as first grade will get parents supporting the changes proposed Wednesday.

The current law only requires remediation for students scoring at the unsatisfactory level.

“A lot of schools are already doing this,” Casey said of providing remediation to all students who are not reading at grade level. “It’s just not acceptable students aren’t reading at grade level.”

Another big change will keep parents on a panel with educators that can grant a probationary promotion to fourth grade if a child fails the exam and does not earn an exemption.

Every person on the team must agree that a student should be promoted to fourth grade. A principal or superintendent must also approve that decision.

The original version of the bill introduced at the beginning of the current legislative session kept parents involved for five years, but Wednesday’s compromise will cap that at three years.

Casey said there is no truth to rumors that had circulated on social media that parents were going to be removed from the process.

“We want the parents involved,” Casey said. “This will ensure that parents stay involved and engaged.”

A third change will require the state Department of Education to collect data on students who are retained or go through remediation. The goal is to see if the state’s law is improving students’ reading abilities as intended.

Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association teachers union, said keeping parents in the decision-making process is a good idea, but was critical of the rest of the bill since it does not include new funding.

“At best, our schools are looking at standstill budgets for next year, yet our classrooms are still over 1,000 teachers short,” Hampton said. “How do our legislators propose we afford these additional reading programs for first, second and third grades and a new data collection system? What staff do they expect to implement them?”

Because many schools have already implemented the reading remediation programs included in the bill, Casey said the costs passed on to districts should be limited.

Sen. John Ford, Bartlesville, who co-authored the bill with Casey, said the state has until May 29 to pass the bill.

Lawmakers hope to pass all remaining bills, approve the state budget and go home by May 22.

“We’ve agreed on a lot of the major things, but we are still trying to get this into a written document,” Ford said of SB 630.

Nate Robson can be reached at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org


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