House Republicans advance Kern’s bill to end social promotion

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted today (Thursday, April 14) to end social promotion in Oklahoma schools, ensuring that grade school students have mastered reading before they advance to more challenging courses. 

 Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi earlier today hailed House authors for their leadership on the issue. 

 “When a child is promoted to the fourth grade without having mastered reading, we are setting that child up for failure,” said state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican and former school teacher. “For Oklahoma’s children to succeed throughout life, it is crucial that we ensure they have mastered reading skills.”

 Senate Bill 346, by state Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond, also a Republican, and Kern, would require students entering first grade in the 2011-2012 school year to master grade-appropriate reading skills by the end of third grade in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.

 Under the legislation, if a reading deficiency is not remedied by the end of third grade, as demonstrated by scoring at the limited knowledge level on annual assessments, the student must be retained in third grade.

 The bill contains several provisions to ensure early intervention occurs before students face the threat of retention.

 School districts would be required to establish a Reading Enhancement and Acceleration Development Initiative to prevent the retention of third grade students and to offer intensive accelerated reading instruction to third grade students who fail to meet standards for promotion and to each kindergarten through third grade student who is assessed as having a reading deficiency.

 Districts must also notify parents when their child has a reading deficiency and inform them of services provided and that the student will be retained if the deficiency isn’t remedied.

 The bill contains exemptions for students who have had less than two years of instruction in an English-language-learner program or those with disabilities.

 Students not promoted would receive intensive reading instruction including tutoring or mentoring, an extended school day or week or year, summer reading camps or reduced teacher-student ratios.

 “This will not be an all-or-nothing event that occurs solely in the third grade,” Kern said. “The bill provides for intensive early intervention so that children do not have to retake the third grade unless it becomes absolutely necessary. The goal is to provide students with a solid education that prepares them for life.”

 The Oklahoma Department of Education’s current funding for Reading Sufficiency programs can sufficiently cover the cost of remediation required by the legislation through summer reading academies and other programs (such as the READ Initiative). 

 Any potential costs associated with retaining students in the third grade would be offset by the reduction in fourth grade classrooms. 

 “It does not benefit a child to send them to the fourth grade and beyond without teaching them to read,” Kern said. “This legislation is carefully designed to lay a foundation for lifetime achievement and to put Oklahoma schools and students on a path for greater success.”

 House Speaker Kris Steele applauded Kern and other colleagues for the outcome, saying, “Success in school and, ultimately, in life requires the ability to read. Senate Bill 346 will ensure that every child in Oklahoma is given the opportunity to succeed. It contains numerous safety net provisions to ensure remediation begins early and that parents are notified if a problem exists. It is a carefully crafted piece of legislation that will lay a foundation for long-term improvement in Oklahoma schools.”

 Senate Bill 346 passed the Oklahoma House 59-34. The bill will return to the state Senate for consideration of House amendments.