- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A bill that makes it easier for Oklahoma third-graders to advance to fourth grade even if they can’t demonstrate basic reading skills became law despite Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto after the Republican-controlled House and Senate voted Wednesday for an override.

The override, which required a three-fourth’s vote of both chambers, was approved 79-17 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate. It was just the second time in four years that Fallin, also a Republican, had her veto overturned. Both chambers erupted in applause after the votes.

The bill modifies the Reading Sufficiency Act to allow a team composed of parents, teachers, administrators and a reading specialist to decide whether to recommend that a student advance to the fourth grade, even if the child fails a third-grade reading test. The school superintendent would make the final decision.

“Nothing was resolved today, other than we decided we’re going to throw out our standards for reading in the state of Oklahoma and go back to the way we used to do it in the past,” Fallin said. “And as a mother, I think that’s a great disservice to our children, that we’re setting them up for failure if they can’t read and they can’t learn the subjects they’re going to be moving onto in the fourth grade.”

The Reading Sufficiency Act requires students to demonstrate basic reading skills on a test administered at the end of the third grade before moving on to the fourth grade. There are several “good cause” exemptions that allow students to advance 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 tough new standards are part of a Republican-led effort backed by Fallin to increase rigor in the classroom and put an end to advancing children to the fourth grade who can’t read.

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 had said they expected that number to drop considerably.

Those 8,000 students will be eligible to advance under the provisions of the bill, said Tricia Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

Teachers, school administrators and parents of children at risk of being held back supported the bill and lobbied legislators to override Fallin’s veto. The Oklahoma Education Association, which represents about 40,000 Oklahoma educators and staff, also supported the bill.

“This will retain the high standards set out to make sure Oklahoma students are learning to read at the appropriate level, but the decision that a child needs to be held back won’t come down to a single high-stakes test,” said Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, the Senate author of the bill.

Rep. Jason Nelson, who was among the House members who opposed the override, said he was disappointed his colleagues voted to cut off questions and debate on the bill on the House floor.

“I’m extremely upset,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “This is a serious matter, and the fact that debate was cut off after a series of questions for which there was no answer … is disturbing.”



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

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