Oklahoma Teacher Fears Promoting 'Low Readers' Sets Kids Up To Fail

Wednesday, May 21st 2014, 6:38 pm
By: Emory Bryan

Lawmakers vote to give parents more power in their children's education. In an afternoon vote, the state House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to override Governor Fallin's veto.

That opens the door to allow third graders who aren't reading at grade level to move on to fourth grade - as long as parents and educators agree.

The Governor says promoting children who cannot read sets them up to fail.

Despite the override - some teachers support strict standards on whether children advance grade levels - beyond their reading level, and a whole lot of children fit into that category.

There's a large group of children who are a full year behind in their reading ability. They'll be promoted to fourth grade because the standard for third graders is really just that they're able to read above the first grade level.

Tina Ohlstrom is a career teacher who believes holding back third-graders who cannot read on grade level - is a good thing. In fact - she believes the standard is too low - because right now - the only children being held back are the ones reading on a first grade level or below - those who scored "unsatisfactory" on the state test.

"All the focus is on the unsatisfactory, and I'm concerned about all these children who could be promoted when they're ready, and they're not ready," said third-grade reading teacher Tina Ohlstrom.

She's talking about the children who scored just below grade level - the third-graders reading on a second-grade level. They're not at risk of being held back because of the test.

Statewide, a total of 7,970 students were in the lowest, "unsatisfactory" category. They're being held back. Another 7,070 students are in the "limited knowledge" category - children on a second-grade reading level who despite their score will be promoted to 4th grade.

5/20/2014 Related Story: Tulsa Educators React To Fallin's Reading Bill Veto

"Once they get into fourth grade, it's a big jump, they have text books they have to read and comprehend, and if they can't read them they just get further and further behind," she said. "So what we're doing is setting them up to be a failure in life, and I don't want that, I want more focus on these other children, the limited knowledge children."

The debate between lawmakers and educators is about parents having a say in whether the lowest readers get promoted anyway. Ohlstrom wants more focus on the children who are low readers - who just aren't ready for 4th grade material.

The teachers can still recommend that low readers are held back for a year - but for these children in this category - the limited knowledge group - it's purely up to the parents. Many choose to send them on anyway.