The Norman Transcript


April 1, 2013

Debate ongoing for read or fail



Oklahoma Department of Education officials say the reading act is designed to help schools improve most students’ skills regardless of reading habits at home or attendance problems.

Tricia Pemberton, spokeswoman for the education department, said some schools with many low-income students score well on state reading tests.

“(These schools) are doing it with the same amount of funding, no more or no less funding,” Pemberton said. “They can do it.”

Florida model: Oklahoma’s reading law is modeled off a Florida read-or-fail law enacted in 2002. The law has been touted as the reason for the state’s academic gains.

Since 2002, average fourth-grade reading scores in Florida on the Nation’s Report Card have jumped by 11 points and are five points above the national average. Minority and low-income students made significant improvements.

The results speak to Florida’s efforts to help struggling kids and hold back the children that need more time, said Mary Laura Bragg, who a decade ago headed then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s reading office and helped craft the reading law.

After Florida’s law took effect, the number of retained third-graders soared by more than 300 percent — to 23,166, according to state education data. The number has fallen since, but the state still holds back more students than it did before the law was passed.

Researchers are still scrutinizing the effects.

Nation’s Report Card data show that while Florida’s fourth-grade reading scores climbed, those for eighth-grade students have improved only slightly. Eighth-grade reading scores remain just below or above the national average.

A 2012 Harvard University study found that achievement by retained Florida students rose in the short term but was statistically insignificant after six years.

The study concluded that retained students did not suffer academically, but the effects of only retention, apart from intervention, could not be measured. Florida required schools to enroll retained students in summer reading programs and give them high-performing teachers and other intervention.

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