Nate Robson
Nate Robson

May 7, 2014

Students worried about repeating third grade for failing Oklahoma’s reading test will have to wait until Monday for a potential legislative reprieve – a move that would come three days after school districts get the test scores back.

Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, said she will push to get the bill she co-authored heard on Thursday, but was promised by House leadership that the bill will be heard Monday.

The bill, HB 2625, removes the mandatory retention of third graders scoring at the lowest level on the state’s reading test if they do not meet one of six exemptions. Instead, the bill establishes a panel consisting of a student’s parents, third-grade teacher, fourth-grade teacher, principal and a reading specialist to determine if the child will advance to fourth grade. The superintendent must then sign off on the recommendation.

Henke said she understood parents’ frustration since the bill has been waiting final House approval since April 21.

That frustration is compounded since any changes to mandatory retention would come after test scores are delivered to district offices Friday.

The Legislature does not convene on Fridays.

“I was told it will be heard Monday,” Henke said. “That means parents and children are going to be waiting anxiously over the weekend.”

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has said the agency expects up to 50 percent of students who score at the lowest level on the test will receive “good-cause” exemptions. Between 5,000 and 6,000 third graders are at risk of failing the test, based on previous years’ results.

The goal of the law currently in place is to push schools and parents to focus on getting students to read well enough by third grade so they can master other subjects going forward. Many educators object to mandated retention based on a test, saying it can impede learning and social adjustment.

Henke expects her bill will pass and head to the governor’s desk given that it has already received the support from a majority of the House and Senate.

But regardless of whether the bill passes Thursday or Monday, the underlying issue on retention will remain. The bill only delays mandatory retention for two years.

“We know we’re going to revisit this,” Henke said of the two-year delay. “Any time you try to pass legislation, there is going to be different view points. This is a compromise we could agree on.”

On Wednesday, Oklahoma Education Association President Linda Hampton said the state’s largest teachers union is still urging lawmakers to pass the bill.

“As an educator, the emphasis our state has placed on a single test, on a single day to determine whether or not our eight and nine year-olds are prepared for the next grade level is unfair and disappointing,” Hampton said in a written statement.

“I highly implore our legislators to support it and do what is best for our children.”

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