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Bill Proposes Holding Back Oklahoma 3rd Graders Who Can't Pass Reading Test

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Third grade teacher Jessica Criswell said research shows holding a student back can be harmful later in life and can lead to higher drop-out rates. Third grade teacher Jessica Criswell said research shows holding a student back can be harmful later in life and can lead to higher drop-out rates.
"I feel like they might just give up and lower their self-esteem," said Katrina Simmons. "I feel like they might just give up and lower their self-esteem," said Katrina Simmons.
Dyslexia Institutes of America Director Penny Stack said circumstances, like learning disabilities, must be taken into consideration Dyslexia Institutes of America Director Penny Stack said circumstances, like learning disabilities, must be taken into consideration
TULSA, Oklahoma -

New legislation is taking shape this school year that will hold back students who can't read.

The law targets third graders in particular. The way the law is laid out, students' first and second grade school years would be used to diagnose any reading deficiencies. They'd have until the end of their third grade year to bring their reading up to speed.

If they don't, they could have to repeat third grade up to two more times.

Third grade teacher Jessica Criswell spent Tuesday getting ready for her first day of school. It's a Kendall-Whittier Elementary School tradition for students to meet their teachers a few days before.

Miss Criswell's favorite subject to teach is reading.

"I just love watching kids transition from maybe being non-readers into just a love of books and a love of literature," Criswell said.

This school year, instilling that love for reading is more important than ever before.

If a student can't pass their end-of-the-year reading test, they may not move on to the next grade.

"I definitely think it's something that we're going to have to watch closely, because if there aren't other interventions in place, retention is not going to be the answer,"Criswell said. "For the children to be retained in middle childhood, I have a lot of concerns about how that's going to affect them, because they have a lot more social awareness at this age."

Criswell said research shows holding a student back can be harmful later in life and can lead to higher drop-out rates.

Parents like Katrina Simmons share that concern.

"I feel like they will not want to put forth the effort, because the would feel like they failed once and failed again and failed again. I feel like they might just give up and lower their self-esteem," said Simmons.

Dyslexia Institutes of America Director Penny Stack agrees. She said circumstances, like learning disabilities, must be taken into consideration, rather than holding back every student who does not pass.

"These children have the potential to come out on the other side, if they are given the opportunity to learn in a style that meets their needs," Stack said.

Students who don't pass their final reading test will be given the opportunity to bring scores up through summer school.

Some students who don't pass could move on to the fourth grade, if they are exempt for a "good cause," meaning the child has a learning disability or disadvantage, as defined by the state.

Stack said this is a looming problem for children who struggle with learning disabilities.

Unless the child is on an individualized education program (IEP) that documents the testing standards are not appropriate for the student, they will be retained.

Stack said the time to seek a diagnosis for a struggling child is now, because when a child struggles with a learning disability, they work twice as hard in attempts to keep up with other students.

She said, while the law won't benefit dyslexic children, she said it could help those with other types of reading deficits.

"Maybe their reading is due to a visual issue, or maybe it's due to an auditory issue, or maybe they come from a socioeconomic background where they haven't been exposed to a lot of opportunity to read," Stack said. "So for those children, this may be the perfect opportunity for them to catch up."

Criswell said she'll do her best to give students an education that keeps going.

"We have to remember that our goal is not to create kids who do well on a test, our goal is to educate future citizens and hopefully people who love to learn their entire life," she said.

One of the authors of the legislation, Oklahoma Senator Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) said, "The current system has allowed far too many students to slip through the cracks," and "unless we want to keep repeating the same mistakes, it is time to try a new approach."

Some students who don't pass could be exempt if they fall into the state's criteria of a learning disability.

The bill offers good cause exemptions for students with disabilities, students who have had less than two years of English instruction, and students who can demonstrate reading ability through a student portfolio.

Read the entire bill and other exemptions here.

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