Thousands of third-graders will get a new chance to advance to the fourth grade even though they failed a basic reading test, the Oklahoma Legislature decided Wednesday in overturning a veto by Gov. Mary Fallin.
The governor on Tuesday vetoed a bill allowing a student who fails the test to still be promoted if a team of parents and educators approve. Lawmakers applauded and cheered when the veto override passed 79-17 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate.
Some parents had approached lawmakers to complain about the high-stakes testing, which was to be implemented for the first time this year.
The legislative action means the bill immediately becomes law, directly affecting nearly 8,000 Oklahoma students who scored “unsatisfactory” on the test.
Fallin said that by overturning her veto, lawmakers gutted reading standards and supported advancing students who can’t read.
“As a mother, I think that’s a great disservice to our children and that we’re setting them up for failure if they can’t read and they can’t learn the subjects, they will be moving on to in the fourth grade,” she said.
There were already several exemptions in the existing third-grade reading rules that allowed students who failed the test to advance if they could pass an alternative test, improve through a summer reading academy or produce a reading portfolio.
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi had sharp words for the Legislature.
“Today’s action is a pathetic and outrageous step back and returns us to a failed system of social promotion that has served the education establishment and little else,” Barresi said.
State Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, who authored House Bill 2625 to relax the reading standard, said her legislation “empowers parents and educators to make individualized decisions for Oklahoma students.”
State Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, said the new law helps teachers and parents who are trying to teach young people to read.
“Children develop at different levels, so I just think having some flexibility allows us to see how to best serve those students, and so this gives us a chance to do that,” she said.
This is the second successful override of a Fallin veto this session. The first involved a bill to prevent Oklahoma sheriffs and police chiefs from stalling the transfer of federally regulated firearms and accessories like silencers, fully automatic weapons and short-barreled shotguns.
and advocates react
“I would like to thank the Oklahoma House and Senate for placing a high value on the voice of parents and educators in reading instruction for our students. They were heroic in stepping forward to vote on behalf of Oklahoma children. I pledge on behalf of all TPS students, teachers and employees that we will do everything in our power to ensure that all students are reading on grade level. It is imperative that we make parents and educators a part of the process, and I am glad to say that our legislators confirmed that position today.”
“We applaud the Oklahoma Legislature for allowing parents and teachers to have a voice on the fate of almost 8,000 third-graders across the state. At the same time we urge our lawmakers to properly fund the Reading Sufficiency Act. This year's budget falls short of giving teachers and schools the tools and resources they need to help students who are struggling the most.”