Monday, May 4, 2015

Our Third Graders Deserve More.

Oklahoma’s Legislative laser-focus on third grade readers has been a personal interest of mine for several years. I am a reading specialist, and spent 10+ years teaching remedial reading in elementary and high school in Oklahoma. I understand assessment and instruction. I understand that all students develop the complex skill of reading, but all students are on their own timetable, not a legislative timetable.

Several years ago, I had an interesting dialogue with Sally Kern, the author of an RSA (reading sufficiency act), which would fail all students who did not ‘pass’ the third grade test.

Then, Jason James examined the reading test that would be used to fail our third graders, and found it  was not a reading comprehension test. It’s a reading/English Language Arts test. There are no grade-level equivalencies for a student score. As a criterion-referenced test, the passing score is NOT grade-level performance, but an arbitrary number that changes at the will of politicians. So many things wrong with using this test to measure reading comprehension!

This year, we have discovered evidence that some students who ‘failed’ this test actually ‘passed’ the reading questions, and ‘failed’ the literary elements, research, and information section of the test. Students were identified as being poor readers, who were, according the test, proficient readers, just not proficient encyclopedia and almanac users.

Last year I  spent a busy day up at the Capitol, visiting with Legislators as they considered whether to override the Governor’s veto of Katie Henke’s HB2625, which would add a committee of parents and educators who would have the right to study all the data about a student…test scores included…and make a decision about the child’s placement for the next year. Governor Fallin must assume that parents have no right to that voice.

I watched the debate and the vote in the House. I watched Rep. Henke, pregnant with her first child, stand in her high heels, and answer stupid questions, just to avoid the inevitable vote.

I watched as Representatives voted to extend to parents and teachers the right to have a say in students’ futures.The House, overwhelmingly Republican, overrode a veto from their own Governor. It was a true celebration when we saw we had the override votes. After a long day, I returned home, knowing the measure also had to pass in the Senate, not knowing if we had the votes.

When I got home, I learned that the Senate voted immediately, no debate, no discussion. HB2625, passed by both Houses, vetoed by the Governor, was given overwhelming support in the Legislature with a strong override.

I also watched the immediate response from our Governor and then-Superintendent.  I responded to their willful ignorance of teaching and learning.

But there was a catch. The committee would only be in effect until 2015 -- this May. NOW I had skin in the game. My youngest Grand’s class would not benefit from the committee of parents and teachers. My daughter would not have the right to have a say in her daughter’s education. My Grand, for whom reading has been difficult, would be on the chopping block unless we could remove the sunset clause of HB2625, and make that committee permanent law.

That "one brief shining moment" of victory for kids and parents would be too brief unless Legislators worked together as they had with the override.

Representative Henke had a bill that would do just that, but to my mind, she suffered a political hand-slap from her own party’s leadership…her bill was never heard in committee…Last year she had bucked the Governor, the then-Superintendent of Schools, and leadership in her own party to do the right thing for our kids. This year, I fear she felt that sting, and her bill to extend the committee died.

There was a Senate bill, SB630 to extend the committee…again only temporarily…but there was a huge trade-off. In order to get the committee for five years, the bill required schools to now fail all third graders who did not score ‘proficient’ on the reading/ELA test. The test that does not give us a reading level…even though we are telling parents their child ‘can’t read.’ Politicians and test makers and those who decide the cut score on tests now have the power of pass-fail on our 8-year-olds.

Oh, but never fear! The committee will be in place…until 2020. BUT  the labeling of students who score ‘limited knowledge’ will continue. No sunset on that portion of the bill. What a destructive trade-off. We in #oklaed have been told a political deal was made, and the only way to extend the committees, temporarily, was to accept limited knowledge as the new cut-off for failure.

How many kids will now fail third grade, unless a committee promotes? I’ve heard figures of 30% in suburban districts, to 65% in urban districts.

Who will hire the new third grade teachers required to teach all the incoming students, and the 30-65% of kids who could be retained? Guess.

Who will pay for all the intensive remediation required by the bill? Guess.

Who will pay the ultimate price for these filthy political machinations? Guess.

Rick Cobb wrote today about the added work that the parent-teacher committee adds to a large suburban district with the retention current cut-off of ‘unsatisfactory’.  Under SB630, that work will more than double.

Who will pay for the committee’s work? The hours filling out paperwork? The hours spent contacting parents and setting up meetings? The hours of after-school meetings? The hours reporting the recommendations of the committee? Guess.

So, the price of the parent-teacher committee is this:
  • Now intensive remediation must be given to all students potentially scoring below proficient (BTW, districts are already spending time with those kiddos…not because it’s the law, but because it’s the right thing to do for students).
  • Now all students who do not score proficient will be targeted for retention
  • Now districts must schedule meetings with parents, meet, report their findings, and make recommendations for placement.
  • Now, administrators in districts must review these recommendations and make the final decision.
  • Now districts must find more teachers to teach third grade…
  • Now districts must find ways to pay for all of this…with no funding from the state.
  • Now third graders who are learning to read at their own rate will be labeled failures by a Legislature who has never heard these kids read…
  • Now the battle begins again. The committee is not permanent if this bill passes. Only the labeling of children is permanent. Only telling a child who scores below that magic cut score…on a test that does not measure reading levels…on a test that combines reading and language arts…on a test given one day in April.

I’ve got skin in this game, and so do thousands of other parents and grandparents.

Why didn’t the Legislature pass the clean RSA bill?

Why is the current bill under consideration the ultimate in tit-for-tat negotiations?

Why are politicians playing their nasty political games with the lives of our children?

Why are our youngest and most vulnerable citizens playthings to Legislators who’ve never taught a day in their lives?

Because this is a personal issue for me, I spoke up. I campaigned for candidates. I voted.

Now my Grand is paying the price for all the voters who didn’t bother…who didn’t vote education issues…or worse, didn’t vote.


  1. Nicely put. First time I've visited your blog. Continue the good fight.

    1. Thank you...there's a lot to fight for. Appreciate your words