Third-graders who fail a state reading test will soon have to meet with their parents and school officials to decide whether they should be held back a grade, go to summer school or receive another type of intervention.
It’s all part of the state’s plan to ensure students are reading proficiently by third grade – a year lawmakers say is a predictor of children’s future success in school.
Along with requiring a parent-approved learning plan for struggling third-graders, a measure Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Sunday will require report cards for students in kindergarten to fourth grade to say whether or not they are reading at grade level. Those changes take effect in the 2014-15 school year.
Schools also must give struggling students extra help with reading in the fourth grade starting in 2015-16 and follow a state-approved reading improvement plan if more than 40 percent of their students score “basic” or “below basic” on the third-grade reading test.
State Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said the goal of the early intervention measure is to prevent students – especially those who don’t have as much support at home – from falling behind and never catching up.
“We’ve got to make sure that those kids of color and of poverty have the same opportunities all children have,” said Dammeier, who is vice chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education committee. “We have to give them a strong start.”
The legislation evolved from an earlier proposal that would have automatically held back students who didn’t perform well on the third-grade reading test.
State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, a Seattle Democrat who chairs the House Education Committee, said the final version of the bill is “much improved” from what was originally proposed, which she said would have punished students for failures of the educational system. She said she still would have preferred a solution that gave schools more options in how they deal with students who aren’t reading proficiently.
“This particular legislation as a whole tends to move more toward presumptive mandates instead of the flexibility to consider what is best for each student,” Santos said. “This moves toward the strategy of making sure you fall within the box.”
The compromise managed to satisfy both education reform advocates and the state teachers union. Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the union doesn’t have concerns about the new law.
Dave Powell, lobbyist for the education reform group Stand for Children, said mandatory meetings between parents, teachers and students will help ensure struggling kids get the help they need.
“Something different has to happen in order to make sure they will begin reading on grade level,” Powell said. “Having that personalized discussion is important because everyone is different.”
Senate Bill 5946, which Inslee signed Sunday, also will limit the length of school suspensions and expulsions, ensuring they don’t last indefinitely. Under the new law, an emergency expulsion must be converted to another form of disciplinary action within 10 days, and a long-term expulsion must last a set amount of time, generally no longer than a year.
The bill also will standardize how the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction collects data on student disciplinary actions. Additionally, schools must meet with students and parents within 20 days of an expulsion or suspension to develop a plan to get the student back to school.
The goal is to make sure minority students and students from low-income families aren’t being disciplined differently than other students, said state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
“We are seeing a system that seems to have disparate outcomes based on race,” he said. “But it’s hard to tell because we didn’t have data.”
The disciplinary reform measure was a top priority for Stand for Children and the League of Education Voters, whose lobbyists said students can’t learn if they are banned from school.
“There is such a disproportionate number of particularly African Americans and students of color receiving long-term suspensions and expulsions,” said Powell, the Stand for Children lobbyist. “We have a responsibility as a society to ensure that the way we address behavior or disciplinary issues isn’t taking away our students’ opportunity to learn.”