February 9, 2018

Committee halts gov’s final attempt to pass third-grade reading bill

For eight years now, the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez has pushed legislation to hold back more students who score below par on standardized reading tests.

And just like every other year since Martinez took office, that legislation faltered at the Roundhouse on Friday, with Democrats questioning how the state could implement a sweeping overhaul of reading education without additional funds and whether schools should base decisions about holding back students on one set of test scores.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, a Republican from Albuquerque and the sponsor of House Bill 210, told the House Education Committee this year’s reading bill was not like previous iterations.

It would have given parents the option to let their child proceed to the next grade level even if the school recommended holding the child back.

And it would have called for more intensive after-hour classes to bring students up to par.

“Nowhere in this bill are we requiring retention,” she said.

But the bill still would have based decisions about holding back students on standardized reading tests, some members countered.

Promoting a student to the next grade, Rep. Linda Trujillo argued, is usually “based upon academic proficiency, which includes lots of things. It includes math, it includes writing skills.”

“This new bill drops it down to just reading,” said Trujillo, D-Santa Fe.

And the bill did not contain any additional funding, raising questions among some committee members about how the state would pay for these programs.

“There is not enough in the line-item [budget] to fund what you are proposing,” said Chairwoman Stephanie García Richard, a Democrat from Los Alamos and a teacher.

The committee — the first to hear the bill — tabled it on a party-line vote of 7-6.

For Republicans, it was a frustrating rerun they say amounts to doing nothing.

According to a legislative analysis, only 25 percent of third-graders scored as proficient or better on the state’s English language arts test during the 2016-17 school year.

Pointing to those statistics, Martinez and Republicans have pushed bills in the past that would require holding back hundreds if not thousands of third-grade students based on reading tests.

In her State of the State address last month, Martinez said this bill would create “a framework for parents and teachers to work together on interventions for children who have fallen behind on reading in early grades.”

State law currently allows parents and teachers to decide if a third-grader should be held back or promoted to fourth grade. But parents have a one-time right to override a school staff’s decision to hold back a child. And Martinez has argued holding back students should be more common.

Research on holding back students has shown mixed findings. A 2009 Rand Corp. report on retention policies in New York City found that holding back students only leads to short-term gains and ultimately hurts students’ academic and social standing.

But a 2011 Public Policy Institute of California report said retention at the first- and second-grade level can pay off and yield positive results up to the seventh grade.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.