- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill on Tuesday that would have made it easier for school districts to promote third graders who may not be reading at grade level, saying the measure would set up Oklahoma’s children for failure.

Fallin vetoed the bill that would have modified the Reading Sufficiency Act to allow a team that includes parents, teachers, administrators and a reading specialist to decide whether a student should advance to the fourth grade.

“If you can’t read in the fourth grade, you’re more than likely going to fall behind,” Fallin said. “If we promote a child to the fourth grade because he or she is 10 years old and not because they’re reading proficient, we’re setting that child up for failure.”

The Reading Sufficiency Act was part of a Republican-led effort backed by Gov. Mary Fallin to increase rigor in the classroom and put an end to advancing children to the fourth grade who can’t demonstrate reading proficiency.

Figures released earlier this month show nearly 16 percent of Oklahoma’s third graders, or nearly 8,000 students, scored “unsatisfactory” on the state reading tests and could be held back next year, although state education officials say they expect that number will drop considerably.

There are several “good cause” exemptions under current law that allow students to advance to the fourth grade despite unsatisfactory scores, including students who have limited proficiency in English, certain disabilities, or students who demonstrate reading proficiency through a teacher-developed portfolio or on alternative standardized reading tests.

The bill Fallin vetoed passed overwhelmingly through the GOP-controlled House and Senate, setting up the possibility of a veto override.

“I am extremely disappointed in the governor’s decision to veto this legislation that empowers parents and educators to make individualized decisions in regard to the unique needs of Oklahoma students,” said Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, the House author of the bill. “I look forward to standing with my colleagues to override this veto.”

The Oklahoma Education Association, which represents about 40,000 Oklahoma educators and staff, also criticized Fallin’s veto.

“It is unfortunate that our governor would oppose not only the parents and educators who trusted her as the leader of our state, but also oppose the senators and representatives who voted to support this legislation,” OEA President Linda Hampton said in a statement.

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Online:

House Bill 2625: http://bit.ly/1gha8ZM

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Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy