A bill that gives parents a say in promoting a student who fails a third-grade reading test will saddle teachers with additional reading instruction at the expense of other students for years to come, the state’s top education official said Thursday.
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, speaking at Thursday’s state Board of Education meeting, called the state Legislature’s decision to overturn Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of House Bill 2625 “an outrageous step backwards” and “returns us to social promotion, make no doubt about that.”
The bill allows a student who fails the test to still be promoted if a team of parents and educators unanimously approve.
“Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade teachers are going to have to now focus on teaching first-grade reading instruction,” Barresi said. “In other words, these kids are sounding out words. ... They’re not building vocabularies and comprehension, and I’m concerned for these children. I’m concerned for the extra burden on these teachers. It’s just so sad.”
Barresi added that she is concerned, too, about “the kids that are ready to move forward and learn, for the amount of time that will not be devoted to them.”
Board member Amy Ford agreed, saying, “We have done a huge disservice to teachers.”
“We’re going to ‘busy-work’ those kids that are on task. That are on point. That deserve the opportunity to learn,” Ford said. “And we’re going to have to concentrate on these kids to make sure they can read at first-grade level and second-grade level.”
Mariel DiCiano, a fourth-grade teacher at Wheeler Elementary in the Oklahoma City school district, said she works closely with third-grade teachers and their students, and will help decide during upcoming parent-teacher conferences what’s best for students who failed the test.
“I do not feel burdened and do not expect to feel burdened,” DiCiano said. “As with every child, you adjust and teach to their specific needs.”
Putnam City Schools spokesman Steve Lindley said it’s incorrect to say teachers will be burdened because they have to focus their time on reading.
“Schools don’t stop teaching reading in the fourth grade,” he said. “Grade four teachers are still focusing time on reading skills,” he said. “In every subject, teachers always have students of different abilities. Teachers always have to take students from where they are and move them toward where they need to be.”
Extra attention will be given to struggling readers, regardless of the new law, said Patricia Watson Hunt, executive director of elementary education for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“Our teachers, principals and support teams have a laser focus on meeting the needs of students struggling in reading,” she said. “This summer, we will offer several opportunities for students to receive additional instruction and support to address reading skills.”
For those third-graders who failed the test but get promoted, teachers will track their growth and those students will be placed in classrooms with highly qualified teachers that have a smaller pupil-to-teacher ratio, said Wilbur House, executive director of Curriculum for the Oklahoma City Public Schools.