A committee substitute bill that would decrease the number of Oklahoma students expected to be held back for failing to pass a third-grade reading test was approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee.
The changes to House Bill 2625 submitted by state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, would create a new option called “probationary promotion” for students who fail a third-grade reading test and who don’t qualify for any of the good cause exemptions that would keep them from being held back.
Under the bill’s new version, a student who fails the test would be placed on probationary promotion and allowed to advance to the next grade if a student proficiency team and the school’s superintendent approved.
The proficiency team would consist of the student’s parents or guardians, current reading teacher, a reading teacher at the next grade level, the school principal and a certified reading specialist.
The team would have to unanimously recommend the probationary promotion and the superintendent would have to approve for it to occur.
Every student who fails the test, regardless of whether they were kept back or promoted, would be provided intensive reading assistance and would have their reading skills evaluated every academic year until demonstrating grade-level reading skills, Jolley said.
The committee substitute for House Bill 2625 passed the Senate Education Committee by a vote of 11-0 and is now headed to the full Senate.
State Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada, expressed concerns.
“We’re talking upon layer and layer of additional steps that the schools may take,” Paddack said. “What extra resources are we putting with this? There’s going to be additional demands on the school, demands on the student and certainly that can’t go forward without additional resources to manage that.”
Jolley said he has several other provisions in his bill designed to decrease testing anxiety and make sure students get the help they need to develop the reading skills necessary for success.
One common complaint legislators have heard from parents is that students are experiencing anxiety because of the fear they won’t be promoted to fourth grade because they fail one test on one day.
To eliminate that anxiety, Jolley said his bill would exempt students from retention guidelines if they demonstrate an ability to read at third-grade level in any of the screening tests leading up to the retention test. Parents and guardians would be notified by letter once a student demonstrates proficiency through a screening test and would no longer need to worry, he said.
“This, actually, I think allows for us to get a lot of kids out of the stomach aches and out of the nervousness that their life depends on that test — that if they don’t do well that day that they’re going to have to repeat third grade, even if they’re reading at a fourth- or fifth-grade level,” Jolley said.