The Norman Transcript

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May 22, 2014

Legislators force rewrite of literacy standards, give teachers and school officials a voice

OKLAHOMA CITY — Teachers and school officials will have their say over whether to promote third-graders still struggling to read, thanks to lawmakers who forced a rewrite of state literacy standards, despite the protest of Gov. Mary Fallin.

The Legislature on Wednesday upheld a law that allows literacy testing for third-graders but significantly reduces the stakes for those who fail.

“Nothing was resolved today other than we decided we were going to throw out our standards for reading in the state of Oklahoma and go back to the way we used to do it in the past,” said Fallin, vowing to revive the debate next year. “We’re setting (our children) up for failure if they can’t read and they can’t learn the subjects they’re going to be moving onto in the fourth grade.”

At issue was the 2011 Reading Sufficiency Act championed by state Superintendent Janet Barresi. Critics said the program over-emphasized testing and placed too much control in the hands of state education officials.

The program gave parents and teachers of third-graders who fail a state literacy test a handful of choices — assemble a portfolio of work proving the student’s reading ability; sign up the student for an alternative test; enroll the child in summer school; or sign up the student for tutoring.

In addition, students with disabilities or limited English proficiency could be promoted to fourth grade.

This year marked a turning point for the program: Though third-graders have taken literacy tests prior to this year, this was the first time that failing third-graders risked being held back.

The law passed this week leaves the testing in place but allows teams of parents, teachers, principals and reading specialists to decide whether students should advance.

The law had initially passed with strong support in both Republican-controlled chambers of the Legislature. But Fallin stepped in the way with a veto on Tuesday, saying lawmakers were sending Oklahoma back to a “broken system.”

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