Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have given parents and educators a say in promoting a student who fails the third-grade reading test, saying the measure would undermine the future of Oklahoma’s children.
Fallin, in announcing her decision, said House Bill 2625 would have weakened the standards contained in the Reading Sufficiency Act by promoting struggling students for the wrong reasons.
“If we promote a third-grader to the fourth grade because he or she is 10-years-old and not because they’re reading proficient, we’re setting that child up for failure,” she said. “And we’re doing so not to make that child’s life easier but to make someone else’s life easier.”
HB 2625, authored by state Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, would have created a student reading proficiency team composed of a parent, teachers, principal and a reading specialist to determine whether a student should be promoted to the fourth grade.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House could meet Wednesday to consider a veto override.
Supporters of the measure wasted little time criticizing Fallin’s decision.
“It is unfortunate that our governor would oppose not only the parents and educators who trusted her as the leader of our state, but also oppose the senators and representatives who voted to support the legislation,” Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said in a statement.
Meredith Exline, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Central Parent Legislative Action Committee, said she was disappointed that Fallin ignored legislators.
“Basically that represents the voice of the people and she went against that,” Exline said. “The decision may be to retain a kid, but shouldn’t it be up to the people who know them the best — educators and parents?”
The third-grade proficiency test — a hot button issue all session — became even hotter May 8 when the state Education Department released the results of this year's reading test. The results showed 7,970 Oklahoma students (16 percent) scored “unsatisfactory” on the test, including 28.9 percent of Oklahoma City School District students and nearly 33 percent of Tulsa district students.
Under current law, those students would be required to repeat the third grade unless they qualify for one of a handful of good cause exemptions or demonstrate the ability to read at a first-grade level or higher. Students who have limited English proficiency or disabilities that require them to have individualized education plans are among those that might be promoted under the good cause exemptions.
The number of exemptions are expected to rise in the coming weeks because students can retest twice before the end of the summer and complete teacher-developed portfolios that show they can read at an acceptable level. Additional reading instruction will be offered over the summer to students in need.
Henke's bill, as amended by the state Senate, would create a two-year window during which students who score unsatisfactory on the test could still be promoted if they can obtain the unanimous recommendation from a team consisting of the student's parents or guardians, the student's reading teacher for the past year, a reading teacher at the next grade level, the school principal and a certified reading specialist.
Fallin said the measure would “gut the state’s literacy programs” by promoting third-graders to the fourth grade without basic literacy skills. That system, she added, has “failed our children for decades.”
“Those children are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to find good jobs even if they do graduate,” she said. “Promoting them to fourth grade without the basic tools they need to succeed is not just unwise; it is immoral. We must ensure our children have basic proficiency in reading before the fourth grade.”