Legislators file bill to revise reading sufficiency standards

OKLAHOMA CITY – Sen. Ron Sharp filed legislation Thursday (January 15) to revise Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act. According to a legislative staff release, “Senate Bill 221 will make Student Reading Proficiency Teams a permanent component in third grade retention and promotion decisions as well as provide more guidance for public schools about summer reading academies.”

Sharp, a Shawnee Republican, said in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, “Being able to read is the most important skill a child can learn and it’s crucial to their success in school and in life. We must provide every opportunity for those third graders struggling with reading to improve their skills.

“The Student Reading Proficiency Teams, created last session, have proved extremely beneficial in the RSA process and this bill will allow them to continue. The summer reading academies have also been helpful to students but after talking to school officials it was apparent that they needed further guidelines to improve student outcomes.”

Under S.B. 221, school districts will be allowed to refer students scoring “unsatisfactory” on the third grade reading test to a summer reading academy. The academy will consist of 80 hours and a student must score “proficient” or “limited knowledge” on a screening instrument in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. The legislation also allows a school district to contract with a private vendor to administer the summer academy or to provide a regional summer academy. 

Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City will be serving as the House author. 

“This bill will not lead to social promotion but will, for the first time, set up a solid program to help teach children to read. It is a great leap forward in not just identifying a reading problem, but presenting a solution that will help teach children to read.” 

The proposal removes the two-year limit on the Student Reading Proficiency Team that was introduced under H.B. 2625 last session. Under that bill, the team (consisting of the parent, teacher, principal and a Reading Specialist) was allowed to recommend probationary promotion for students who had not demonstrated third grade reading proficiency. S.B. 221 makes the teams, which were set to expire this year, permanent and directs that they consider certain information, like classroom performance or personal events, before making their recommendation for probationary promotion.

“My main goal with this bill is to give parents more options should their child fail the reading test. First, they can place their child in a summer reading academy and ensure that their child meets the attendance requirements giving them the opportunity to retake the test. Then should the child fail the reading test again, the parents can still vote, as part of the Student Reading Proficiency Team, to have their child promoted. If the parents don’t take advantage of either of these options, the child will be retained in the third grade,” Sharp explained. 

The legislative release said the legislators “worked with parents, state education officials, local teachers and school administrators including Choctaw/Nicoma Park Assistant Superintendent Meda Beall and Dale Public Schools Superintendent Charlie Dickinson in drafting SB 221.

Beall commented, “By making the Student Reading Proficiency Team a permanent component in third grade retention and promotion decisions, this bill recognizes the importance of reading proficiency to student success and acknowledges the essential role of parents and educators who best know the child. 

“This team can analyze the performance and needs of the whole child rather than basing such an important decision only on the child’s performance on a standardized test. Students aren’t standardized. They are individuals with individual needs and they come with a wide variety of abilities, issues and experiences. While assessments must be given major consideration, so must other factors such as school performance, cognitive level and other life events.”

Dickinson said the bill provides local control by parents and educators when it comes to promotion decisions: “We all know that being able to read is essential for students’ success as they move forward in their education. However, there are always extenuating circumstances that come into play and educators and parents must be given the ability to do what’s right for individual students.”