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Governor's bill on third-grade reading standards raises eyebrows


Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker says she has concerns about the latest bill introduced in the Legislature that would require most students to pass the state's third-grade reading test before they could advance to fourth grade.

S.B. 169, the "Kansas Reads to Success Act," is Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal for making sure students can read at grade level before advancing beyond third grade. It would also add $12 million over two years for early-childhood literacy programs.

The bill was introduced Monday in the Senate Education Committee and is similar in many ways to H.B. 2004, which was introduced by Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center.

On the positive side, at least in DeBacker's view, the governor's bill would not take effect until the 2016-17 school year, meaning it would apply to students entering kindergarten next year. Huebert's bill would take effect immediately in the 2013-14 school year.

Also, the governor's bill would hold back only students who score at the "lowest achievement standard" on the third-grade reading test, whereas Huebert's bill would apply to a wider range of students who score below the "meets standards" level.

The governor's bill also adds money for intensive reading interventions at the early grade levels to bring more students up to proficiency.

However, DeBacker said, that money would be distributed through competitive grants funded through the Department of Children and Families, not the Department of Education, and decisions on the awards would be made by the Kansas Children's Cabinet, an agency more directly controlled by the governor since he appoints five of the nine voting members.

In addition, DeBacker noted, grants would be awarded to outside nonprofit organizations, or nonprofits working in cooperation with a school district, with preference given to organizations that provide at least a 30 percent match of "funds which are not state or federal moneys."

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor's press secretary, said those provisions were "absolutely not" meant to imply that Brownback lacks confidence in the agency's ability to supervise public education. She said Brownback respects the department's role, but that the governor has been working through the Children's Cabinet on several other projects related to his "Roadmap for Kansas" initiatives.

Finally, DeBacker said, although she supports the idea that students need to have strong reading skills by third grade — the point where students move from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" — she said it was important to remember that it will have a disproportionate impact on minority and economically disadvantaged students.

According to data from the 2012 reading assessments, if the bill had been in place last year, approximately 4.9 percent of third-graders in Kansas (1.7 percent in the Lawrence district) would have failed to qualify for advancing to fourth grade.

Within that group, however, would be 7.9 percent of Hispanic children; 9.6 percent of black children; and 8.2 percent of students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

Jones-Sontag, however, said that doesn't account for the impact of the early-childhood reading programs.

"The number of students who score in the lowest category is expected to decrease as the result of three years of the focused interventions required and funded as part of the Governor’s proposal,” she said.


gccs14r 5 years, 4 months ago

"The beatings will continue until morale improves."

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

Also no accountability, since it wouldn't go into effect until after the election - whichever election you think he's more interested in.

fu7il3 5 years, 4 months ago

If you cannot read at a third grade level, you should not advance past the third grade, regardless of being a minority or economically disadvantaged. We should not have high school kids who can't read their textbooks. We aren't doing any favors to children by promoting them through school just because their friends are moving on.

average 5 years, 4 months ago

The no-advancement-without-passing part of it, you'll find widespread agreement with among Kansans. At least until they start having to pay for it.

But, the funneling of 'intervention money' through Sam's Shadowy Slushfund (check out the Childrens Cabinet's half-built website and try to figure out what they do)? Preferences for funds that have non-governmental matching (I wonder if the Church of Scientology wants to come up with a third-grade reading program based on the works of L.Ron)? No accountability for whether those funds actually go to schools that need help or instead manage to mostly go to Johnson County where the school districts know how to get grant money? That half of the equation is pretty sketchy.

justoneperson 5 years, 4 months ago

You just went from passing the third grade reading assessment to not being able to read in high school--quite a few grades missing somewhere.

Funny thing is, in some ways I agree with your larger point, that students should not be shuffled along from one grade to the next with little regard for whether they are prepared. However, nothing like terrible implementation to screw up a good concept.

The question is whether this plan will actually create some positive change; or whether it's yet another attempt to push something that in the long run actually benefits friends of Sam but has little actual value to Kansans and their children; or whether it's simply (as someone else has already wondered) just a policy meant to look like the Republicans are doing something, when in fact they are not.

This is a reply meant for two above me. Apparently my eyes decided not to work before I finished my coffee today.

fu7il3 5 years, 4 months ago

You should not be able to advance to any grade unless you are able to perform at the previous grade level. Reading ability and habits are largely formed in the first few years of literacy, not to mention the amount of time spent learning to read in the classroom decreases as elementary school progresses. If the kid isn't reading by the time he hits middle school, he isn't likely to bother learning after that. In that way, passing a kid on to fourth grade, knowing he can't read, is likely going to result in his never catching up.

I'm not supporting it as a supporter of Brownback. I'm not a Republican. The question you are asking isn't one that can be answered without actual implementation of some sort of program. Will this program be better than what is being done now? There are enough people who will be critical of everything Brownback does, and by no means is his idea perfect.

That being said, kids learning to read is more important to me than my own politics. If he accomplishes something good for him. If not, then someone else needs to come up with something better.

Armstrong 5 years, 4 months ago

Accountability and standards - Oh no ! but ... but... but... Here come the parade of exceptions as to why it can't be done, hold on it's gonna get good

beeline 5 years, 4 months ago

Jethro Bodine was the oldest kid in his 6th grade class and I'm not sure Ellie May ever went to school. Their family did alright.

Bob_Loblaw 5 years, 4 months ago

Yuppers.....a good Republican answer too......oil....;-) Money and influence trumps all education....worked for GW.

question4u 5 years, 4 months ago

"Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor's press secretary, said those provisions were 'absolutely not" meant to imply that Brownback lacks confidence in the agency's ability to supervise public education.'"

Wow! This mouthpiece actually said something that at least alludes to the truth. Why would Flim-Flam Sam care whether the agency is or isn't capable of supervising education when his only concern is cutting funding overall? You'll sooner make a convincing argument that Hitler was a semitophile than that Brownback is a friend to education. Even in Kansas backwards land that idea is too ludicrous for anyone to say with a straight face.

You have to love it when the hypocrites start dragging out the cliches like "accountability." What accountability is Brownback offering for his scheme? What's going to guarantee that this will have any effect other than cutting the state's obligations to education? What accountability has Brownback built into any of his proposals? How are business owners in Kansas going to be held accountable for creating jobs in return for paying no state income tax? What guarantee is there that depleting the resources of KDOT isn't going to leave the state with a higher bill for maintenance later on? And on and on. Brownback has offered no guarantees at all for his "experiment." Why hasn't he vowed not to seek re-election if his plans don't meet certain benchmarks? Maybe it has to do with those "shot of adrenaline to the heart of the economy" and "35,000 new jobs next year" statements and their incompatibility with the plan to increase taxes to offset the losses that are supposed to bring prosperity down the road, in maybe five years or thereabouts, sometime, eventually.

Accountability should be a double-edged sword, but in Kansas it's the favorite word of those who speak from both sides of their mouths. Accountability is always for someone else and never yourself.

Joe Hyde 5 years, 4 months ago

Excerpted from the story:

"However...that money (12 million state dollars, not a penny of it contributed by those 191,000 tax-exempt business owners) would be distributed through competitive grants funded through the Department of Children and Families, not the Department of Education, and decisions on the awards would be made by...an agency more directly controlled by the governor....."

Translation: Gov. Brownback imposes more autocratic power over functions of the Kansas public school system, in this case by creating a "business model" in which non-state certified instructors get paid to teach reading...but only if they've made campaign contributions to conservative Republican causes and espouse religious beliefs that are in close agreement with those held by the governor.

buffalo63 5 years, 4 months ago

What happens to those who can't read third grade level after the second go-around? What about those inclusion students that struggle with academics (reading)? Get ready to build more third grade classrooms.

Deb Engstrom 5 years, 4 months ago

In this day and age, with all the technology available, if a student struggles with reading, they need to have access to the information in other forms, not held back.

fu7il3 5 years, 4 months ago

Are they going to have the information in other forms when they get a job and their boss expects them to be able to perform tasks on their own? I'm all for accommodation for disabilities. More time on tests, larger print, audio for blind students... But if it is just a matter of the student learning having difficulties learning to read, being held back might be the best thing for him.

Tracy Rogers 5 years, 4 months ago

How about funding all day kindergarten first?

Bob_Loblaw 5 years, 4 months ago

I have the best idea....how about parents read to their children as they grow up and actually instill the desire in them to want to learn to read.....end of story.

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