It’s hard to argue with Gov. Sam Brownback’s new emphasis on raising reading scores among Kansas youngsters, but both the governor and legislators need to make sure the state is seeking real improvement rather than a short-term fix that will simply make the statistics look better.
At a number of stops across the state last month, Brownback expressed his concern over the number of fourth-graders in Kansas public schools who aren’t proficient readers. Reports show 16.6 percent of fourth-graders were below the standard on Kansas assessment tests and 64 percent were below the proficient level on National Assessment of Education Program tests. To address that problem, Brownback says he will make specific proposals to the Legislature this year to boost fourth-grade reading scores.
However, Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, isn’t waiting to see the governor’s proposal and already has pre-filed a bill that proposes one strategy for improving fourth-grade reading scores: keep all third-graders who are less than proficient on state reading tests in the third grade. Over the long haul, Huebert’s bill might result in more third-graders learning to read, but its most immediate impact will be to artificially boost the number of fourth-graders who are proficient readers by keeping poor readers out of fourth grade.
There is no doubt reading is an essential skill for Kansas youngsters at all education levels, but the state should be looking at broad and meaningful ways to raise reading proficiency, not a quick fix that meets a short-term goal.