Thursday, January 17, 2013

Questions About the Governor's Reading and 3rd Grade Retention Plans

We've received questions about Governor Brownback's "Read to Succeed" proposal mentioned in his State of State address Tuesday night. He endorsed a policy to prohibit third grade students who fail to meet a proficiency standard in reading from being promoted to fourth grade, and proposed $14 million in new funding for additional literacy program funding and school incentives over the next two years. Improving fourth grade reading was one of the Governor's "roadmap" goals. Both third grade retention and increased support for struggling K-3 readers was part of a package of education initiatives adopted in Florida a decade ago under Governor Jeb Bush, and a popular idea in many Republican and conservative circles.

We'll consider the evidence and arguments on this concept at a later time The Governor has not yet introduced a bill, so we don't know all the details in his plan. A separate bill, HB 2004, was pre-filed by Rep. Steve Hubert, R-Valley Center. That bill is similar to one considered but not acted on last session - but appears to differ from the Governor's concept in several ways. First, HB 2004 would take effect next school year, 2013-14. The Governor's proposal on fourth grade promotion would not take effect for three years, until the 2016-17 school year. Second, the Governor's staff indicates the State Board could provide an alternative test for students to demonstrate reading proficiency. HB 2004 appears to use only the state reading assessment given once a year to all students. Third, HB 2004 allows parents to waive the requirement and have their child promoted regardless of performance. This would be a significant exception. Finally, HB 2004 limits the number years a child could be held back to a total of two years, while the Governor's bill only requires one year of retention.

It is unclear how many students would be affected by either bill. Last year, approximately 5% of third-graders scored in the bottom "academic warning" category on the state reading assessment, and approximately 10% scored in the "approaches standard" category but still below the "meets standard" level considered "proficient" under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The actual number of students who might be retained would depend on what exceptions, if any, would be allowed; for example, for special education, English Language Learners, parental opt-out or other factors. It would also depend on how successful districts are in continuing to increase the percentage of students at proficient or higher.

A final complication is that the State Board of Education will be adopted a new testing program, based on new college- and career-ready standards already adopted. Depending on how the State Board determines proficiency on the new assessments, the percent of students falling below that line could increase (or decrease).

We welcome questions or comments on this issue.

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