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May 22, 2014

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

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OKLAHOMA CITY —

Both House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to force the changes despite her objections.

Gene Perry, policy director of the non-partisan Oklahoma Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank in Tulsa, said the Legislature has returned decisions about students’ futures to those most equipped to make them.

“The parents, honestly, and the teachers and the principals, are going to know a lot more about each individual student,” he said.

Earlier this month education officials released findings that about 8,000 Oklahoma third-graders — or 16 percent — had scored “unsatisfactory” on the state tests. But Perry and other critics of the program said those numbers were misleading.

About half the failing students had special needs, said Perry, while another quarter were learning English as a second language. Students in those categories can struggle to get exemptions from the 2011 act, he said.

Perry said the test isn’t a simple literacy exercise but assesses skills such as understanding an argument and grammar.

“Having that decision being put on any one test is problematic,” he said, noting that it may be useful in determining reading ability but shouldn’t be the only measure of a student’s success.

Other groups came out in support of the Reading Sufficiency Act — and Fallin’s attempt to salvage it.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank in Oklahoma City, saluted the governor’s effort. The group called the Legislature’s effort well-intentioned, noting that many supporters are “clearly motivated by compassion,” but it said this week’s bill will “eviscerate” current law.

The group said in a statement: “Gov. Mary Fallin’s tough-love veto shows that she understands that it is anything but compassionate to promote a child to the fourth grade who is reading at a first-grade level or lower. Fourth-graders who are functionally illiterate, who cannot read and comprehend ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ are well on their way to joining the ranks of Oklahoma’s adult illiterates. These are children whose lives will be damaged, many of them unalterably.”

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