Reading Sufficiency: Don’t Overthink This
In 2014, the Oklahoma Legislature did one of the smartest things I’ve seen from them in quite a while. They passed HB 2625, authored by Katie Henke. Then when Governor Fallin vetoed it, they quickly passed it again – overwhelmingly. This bill kept the heart of the third grade retention law – the Reading Sufficiency Act – in place, but correcting the fact that the retention decision was automatic and completely tied to the third grade reading test.
The handful of people opposed to the bill just couldn’t seem to understand that the six good cause exemptions were going to leave a lot of kids stuck in a holding pattern. The safety nets for English Language Learners and special education students just weren’t sturdy enough. They also, in typical form, expected the worst from educators. In their minds, if a committee that also included a parent were to meet to discuss promotion to the fourth grade, the teachers and principals would cave to pressure every time.
They didn’t. Committees met. Many students were promoted. Some were retained. For both groups of students, committees have continued meeting.
For my school district, this has meant the creation of 12 new forms. Keep in mind that our staff (collaborating with specialists from other districts) made these forms with no help from the Oklahoma State Department of Education. When we would ask questions, we would receive answers that were merely quotations of the law or administrative rules. Also keep in mind that large school districts such as Moore have the ability to employ curriculum specialists. This state has many districts that do not, in which case, the task of creating documentation would have fallen to principals and teachers.
These are the forms we use when our committees meet, when we make recommendations on our students who scored Unsatisfactory last year, and when we communicate with parents. If SB 630, which has passed both chambers with amendments and still needs to go to conference committee, were to pass as written, this process would become much more complicated. We would now have to go through these same steps with all of our students who score in the Limited Knowledge range as well.
My understanding is that adding the Limited Knowledge group in with the Unsatisfactory group is the price to extend the time of the parent/teacher committees. Last year, HB 2625 put this step in place for two years. This summer will be the second year. Passing SB 630 would extend that provision through the 2019-2020 school year.
Keeping parents involved in retention/promotion decisions is critical. The rest of the work is important too. My fear is that when we take the same number of teachers, principals, and reading specialists and double their paperwork and meeting time, we will dilute the impact we are seeing on our neediest students. How much extra time do we really need to spend on students who are one or two questions short of passing the test? The short answer is as much as it takes. With the students who are farther behind, this undefined amount is much, much more.
Only a few of the people I talk to want to do away with the RSA altogether. What most of the rest of us want to do is give the current configuration some time to work. We believe, other than the fact that it’s not fully funded, that we’re making it work. We believe, with recent changes at the SDE, that we’re even getting a little guidance finally to help us with the bureaucratic part of it. More paperwork and meetings aren’t the help our students need.