Topeka An official with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation on Thursday touted the benefits of banning “social promotion,” but Kansas education officials said there was no need for such a state mandate in Kansas.
Christy Hovanetz, a senior policy fellow with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said passage of the Florida law to retain third-grade students who were functionally illiterate was a hard-fought political battle but well worth it.
Talking to the House Education Committee via teleconference, Hovanetz said that since the law took effect, the third-grade illiteracy rate in Florida has decreased from 29 percent to 16 percent since 2000. And the percentage of retained third-graders peaked at 13.2 percent in 2002-03 and has since fallen to 6.4 percent last year.
The reason, she said, was that the retention law made schools focus and organize themselves around the goal of getting children up to grade-level reading by the third grade.
“There was a lot of political pressure to change the policies, but the perseverance really paid off,” she said.
The Education Committee is considering a similar proposal for Kansas. In addition, Gov. Sam Brownback has said one of his major goals is increasing the percentage of fourth-grade students reading at or above grade level.
Under House Bill 2245, a student would have to repeat third grade if the child scored less than proficient on the third-grade state reading test.
But Kansas education officials said the state shouldn’t mandate whether a student must be retained. Local schools currently make those decisions.
“The best decisions are made when the teacher, principal and parent make that decision as a team,” said Mark Desetti, with the Kansas National Education Association.
Many of the Kansas education officials noted that Kansas students rank ahead of Florida students and their improvements in scores over the past several year have paralleled or exceeded those of Florida students.
They also said some research shows that sometimes retention can be harmful to students, and they said they didn’t like basing the decision on whether to promote a student on the result of one high-stakes reading test.
And they said Kansas schools have already been practicing many of the strategies that Florida has recently put in place, such as frequent monitoring of students and providing reading coaches to children who are struggling to learn.
Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand, R-Courtland, however, indicated he was interested in the Florida concept.
He said that if the committee works on the bill it would add exemptions to mandatory retention similar to exemptions in Florida’s law. Those include students with disabilities that prevent them from taking a test, English language learners who have had less than two years of English, and students who demonstrate proficiency on an alternate test.