Bill would require third-graders to read

Staff writerMarch 1, 2013 

Third-graders who fall short of state reading standards might find themselves repeating the grade under a proposal making its way through the Legislature.

A version of the measure in the Senate may come up for a floor vote soon, while similar legislation in the House faces a deadline today to make it out of the House Appropriations Committee. While a previous version of the proposal had more teeth, the latest version would exempt students whose parents don’t agree with the decision to hold their student back.

Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1452, which was heard Thursday in the House Appropriations Committee. The measure would prohibit third-graders who score “below basic” on the state language arts test from being promoted to fourth grade unless they meet a “good cause exemption” or their parents don’t agree with the decision to hold them back.

Students with significant cognitive disabilities, some students receiving special education, and students who have already been held back at least twice would also be exempt from the promotion standard.

Dahlquist said the state must do something to intervene when kids aren’t meeting reading standards at a young age. According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 8.4 percent of the students fell “below basic” on the third-grade language arts test.

“Before third grade, students are learning to read – after third grade, they are reading to learn,” Dahlquist said. “Every year we put that off is just another year lost after third grade.”

The bill would require school districts to provide “intensive instructional support” for any student who scored far below the state standard on the third-grade test. Such support could include tutoring, small group instruction, classes with reduced teacher-to-student ratios, extended school days, or summer school.

Wendy Rader-Konofalski, a lobbyist for the Washington Education Association, said the teachers union opposes the proposal. She said student promotion and retention are delicate issues that should be handled by schools and teachers, not governed by standardized tests.

She called the proposal “the state’s attempt to micromanage schools” and said lawmakers should instead be focused on responding to a state Supreme Court decision that faulted the Legislature for not fully funding basic education.

The union is concerned that lawmakers want to fund the proposal with money from the Learning Assistance Program – money already budgeted for other reading, writing, and math programs for struggling K-12 students. State analysts estimate that the extra schooling and remedial programs prescribed by the bill would cost $97 million in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.

“What they’re suggesting is that we funnel that (money) down to one grade and one subject without any funds to replace it,” Rader-Konofalski said. “It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

While the Republican-backed measure has some Democratic support, others are critical of it. Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, voted against the proposal in the Education Committee. In an email, Hunt called the idea of holding back students “outdated.”

“The bill appears to think that we still live in an Ozzie and Harriet world where all kids come from two-parent families and that those parents will eagerly come to their children’s rescue,” Hunt said. “Sadly, that does not exist any more.”

Jimmy Lovaas: 360-943-7123 Twitter: @jimmylovaas jimmy.lovaas@ thenewstribune.com

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