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Why proposal to hold kids back who fail reading test doesn’t pencil out

A proposal to hold kids back if they can't pass a third-grade reading test is getting a failing grade from numerous critics, including the Luke Burbank Show. (AP file)

If a kid can’t pass a reading test after third grade, should they be held back? A number of lawmakers think that could be the solution to students who aren’t keeping up.

Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup is sponsoring a bill requiring kids who fail a standardized test to retake third grade. “We are going to force the system to do what’s necessary to make a kid successful,” he tells the Everett Herald.

Not everyone agrees. One expert told the Herald it can actually make matters worse.

“It is important to note that 30 years ago educational researchers declared grade retention to be ‘an unjustifiable, discriminatory, and noxious’ intervention,” Shane Jimerson, a professor in the Gevirtz School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the Herald.

Randy Dorn, Superintendent of Public Instruction, argues holding kids back can be emotionally devastating, and basing it on a single test is unfair.

In a conversation on KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show, the consensus was intervention needs to happen much sooner to make a real difference.

News Anchor Kim Shepard, a mother of two young students, argues kids need to be proficient readers well before third grade.

“If they don’t know how to read by the end of first grade, if they’re not decent readers, they’re going to have issues with math, with science, with social studies, with everything else they start to learn in second grade.”

“It’s a simplistic solution to a complex problem,” says KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney. “What happens the next year? If you don’t get past the third grade level, what happens the next year? Are you going to keep holding them there?”

But Dammeier counters advancing a kid who can’t read at grade level sets them up for failure later on in school and life. “That is the worst thing we can do for them,” he told the Herald.

Dorn’s office reports over 6,000 third graders failed the state’s 2011 Measurements of Student Progress test. Dammeier estimates about 2,000 would be held back when the law took effect for the 2014-15 school year based on those numbers.

It would be costly. With the state now spending about $10,000 per student per year in public schools, it would cost about $$20 million to have them retake third grade.

Dorn argues lawmakers telling teachers whether a kid should be held back is akin to the general public telling Boeing how to build airplanes.

Luke agrees, and says the measure merely puts more responsibility on schools for parents who can’t or won’t do their jobs.

“There’s so much stuff that we’re asking the schools to do that the parents should really be taking an active role. When the schools are trying to pick up all the slack for a lot of pretty lousy parents at times it feels unwinnable,” Luke says.

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