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Third grade reading bill defeated; 'innovation districts' bill moves forward


Topeka — The Kansas Senate Education Committee on Tuesday narrowly defeated one of Gov. Sam Brownback's major education policy initiatives: a bill to require third-grade students be held back if they are not reading at grade level.

On an unrecorded 5-6 vote, the committee rejected S.B. 169, the "Kansas Reads to Succeed Initiative," which Brownback touted during his State of the State address in January. That was the speech in which Brownback made the dubious assertion that "29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level."

That figure was based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP exams, which are not given to all students and which are not aligned with Kansas reading standards. Data from the state's reading assessments, which are given to virtually all students, show only 11.3 percent of fourth-grade students scored below standards in 2012.

With a few exceptions, the bill would have required schools to hold students back in the third grade if they scored in the bottom performance level on the state's third-grade reading assessment.

The bill also would have provided $12 million over two years from the Children's Initiative Fund (tobacco settlement money) to pay for reading intervention programs in earlier grades.

Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker expressed concern about the bill when she briefed the State Board of Education about it earlier this month. Chief among her concerns was that it circumvented the state board, which has the constitutional authority for "general supervision of public schools, educational institutions and all the educational interests of the state."

The bill would have put the Kansas Children's Cabinet in charge of distributing the money in the form of competitive grants to nonprofit organizations, school districts or a combination of the two. Priority, though, would have been given to applicants who could put up a 30 percent match from nonstate and nonfederal funds.

The committee debate focused on many of the typical arguments heard over third-grade retention laws, which have been enacted in a handful of other states: Supporters say schools do more harm than good by promoting students who can't read at grade level; opponents argued that it would be unreasonable to put so much emphasis on an 8-year-old's score on a single standardized test, and that doing so might well increase that child's chances of dropping out of school in the future.

The surprise, though, came from Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, who turned out to be the swing vote on the panel.

Kerschen won his seat in 2012 after defeating incumbent Sen. Dick Kelsey of Goddard in the August GOP primary. Kerschen had been endorsed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and, thus, was thought to be a close ally of Brownback.

But Kerschen said, among other things, that he objected to taking parents out of the equation when making decisions about a child's future.

Innovative Districts Act clears committee

The Senate panel did endorse another bill Tuesday that would give a limited number of districts authority to dispense with many laws and regulations governing schools by applying to be designated as a "public innovative district."

S.B. 176 was spearheaded by committee chairman Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, who said it would be a kind of pilot project in response to claims by some administrators that they are hamstrung by cumbersome regulations.

The bill would allow up to 10 districts at a time to be designated as innovation districts. Those districts would still be subject to federal laws requiring special education and handicapped accessibility, as well as general public health and safety laws. They would also have to comply with state accreditation requirements, and they would get the same funding as other schools under the state school finance formula.

But they would be exempt from a host of other laws and regulations, notably laws requiring collective bargaining with teachers.

The committee advanced the bill on an unrecorded voice vote. it now goes to the full Senate.


buffalo63 5 years, 3 months ago

"advanced...on an unrecorded voice vote." How convenient of no record. I know of teachers that are "hamstrung by cumbersome" administrators.

buffalo63 5 years, 3 months ago

The best administrator was one who hired teachers then left them to do their job. He was willing to nurture those that needed help, but then didn't stand in the way of those teachers willing to "Think outside the box" as they say. The worst was one who ordered everyone to do it her way and one year changed the grade level assignment of every teacher in the building, because she could. Didn't have a job after the achievement scores fell that year.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 3 months ago

So, if you flunk, you pass. I understand, but my mother, the third grade teacher, would never get that one. But, as far as I know, she never needed to flunk a single student in her entire career, which admittedly wasn't really that long.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 3 months ago

Actually, I could be wrong, maybe she taught fifth grade. It's been years, I'd have to ask.

Katara 5 years, 3 months ago

While I agree that it does more harm to promote a student just for the sake of promoting the student, it does not make sense to base that decision on one test score. Evaluating the students over the course of the school year, along with feedback from parents, is a much better way to make a decision as to whether or not a student should be held back.

Also, the reason why a student is not able to read at the 3rd grade level should be addressed. Is it a learning disability? Is there some other behavioral issue? Is it the home environment? Is it an issue with the teacher? All those questions should be answered before making the decision to hold a student back.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 3 months ago

I think if it's a marginal score, there should be a retest, and some more evaluation. But if the retest is failed by a large amount, it needs to be accepted that there is a problem, and summer school for catchup would probably be a good idea.

Is my opinion.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 3 months ago

Sometimes a parent's input is not good at all.

I've got my Differential Aptitude Test scores from 1971 right in front of me, my mother saved them in a scrapbook, along with copies of my rather poor grades. Here's a transcript: Verbal Reasoning 95th %ile, Numerical Ability 95th %ile, VR + NA 97th %ile, Abstract Reasoning 99th %ile, Clerical Sp. & Acc. 20th %ile (whoops!) Mechanical Reasoning 99th %ile, Space Relations 90th %ile, Spelling 99th %ile, Grammar 95th %ile.

The point being, I was considered to be rather bright, and had no academic problems at all, except for untreated ADHD issues. So, I got only Cs, usually. I could not understand what the teacher was saying in front of the class was the real problem, because he/she was speaking far too slowly for me to keep track. But I read a massive amount, if the tested material was in a book, there was no problem at all. Not if I bothered to read that particular book, anyway.

The year after that test was taken, we moved to another city, and my father insisted that I be flunked so that I would get better grades. Nothing else would do, I must be flunked. It was one of the most humiliating events of my life, and there was no getting out of it.

The major difficulty was that I had just completed my freshman year in High School, and the city that we had just moved to used the middle school system. So, I am one of the very few people in the world that went to High School one year, and was then flunked back to Junior High School the next year. Then, on to High School for the next year, and then we moved back to my old home town. So I never attended the same High School for two years in a row. Sometimes I wonder what that must have been like.

I was horrified at what this would mean. I would graduate with the class behind, and everyone would know! It had been my deathly secret that I had been flunked by my father from High School back to Junior High by my father for no good reason, and I told almost no one. But I must admit that it was rather nice to be considered a super genius without doing any studying at all during that year in Junior High. But, I learned nothing at all.

But much later, the principle of the old High School understood my plight, and counted my credits, and assigned a set of classes that allowed me to graduate with my old high school class.

So, in a way, I was a freshman once in a four year school, a 9th grader 3 year Junior High after that, that's sort of a freshman again, then a sophomore at a 3 year High School is sort of a freshman, then I was a senior. That means, I was a freshman for 3 years, and a senior for one year.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 3 months ago

There might have been a different solution besides flunking me, which didn't really raise my grades anyway except for that first year. When I was 12, I was diagnosed with stomach ulcers. Actually, the problem was not new at that time. And it was bad, my appendix had been removed the year earlier in an attempt to solve that terrible problem, but that didn't do a bit of good.

I had them until I left the house for college at age 17. Then, they went away, and I have never had a problem with them since. I wonder if the problems that led to my ulcers had been directly addressed if the effect on my grades would have been different, and how much different my life would be today.

Greg Cooper 5 years, 3 months ago

So, basically, an "innovation district" will become a private school receiving federal and state dollars but applying only the rules that benefit the "smart" students.

Another great idea, Kansas Legislature.

And the beginning of another round of lawsuits paid for by the taxpayers whose children will not benefit fro the law.


kuguardgrl13 5 years, 3 months ago

I'm also betting they'll lose a lot of good union teachers in those districts since they won't collectively bargain.

Shardwurm 5 years, 3 months ago

I always chuckle when I see people say that teachers will leave. They're not going anywhere. They have a gravy train and unless they're willing to uproot their families in the midst of the recession (highly unlikely) they're staying. Teaching is one of the best rackets out there. They know it. In over 30 years in the private sector I've never - EVER - met a successful business person who was a former teacher. They just don't exist.

Lynn Grant 5 years, 3 months ago

Shardwurm Have you ever met a former business person who became a successful teacher? It is training and aptitude that make a person successful in their chosen field. I would challenge YOU to teach a class of 25 or more 3rd graders. Then you could see if it is a "racket" !

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