The Pryor Times

May 1, 2014

Reading is fundamental: Tests may not be


Sen. Sean Burrage

PRYOR, OK — We know that learning to read well is critical for a child’s success in school. When students lag in reading ability, it’s a problem that simply gets worse with each grade as they fall farther and farther behind. Study after study shows it is a factor impacting dropout rates. There’s also a high correlation between illiteracy and poverty, incarceration rates, and a host of other social ills.

In 2011, a bill came through the Legislature to boost reading levels for Oklahoma students. The measure, called the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA), mandated a reading test at the end of the third-grade year to make sure each child was reading at grade-level. If a student didn’t pass, they would be held back so they could have another year to improve their reading ability.

From my perspective, there was one major problem with the bill. We were still in the midst of the national recession; Oklahoma didn’t have the resources needed to be able to place additional reading teachers in all the grade schools in the state, or to fund any meaningful kind of remediation effort at all. I didn’t support it at the time, but it was passed and signed into law.

This year marked the first that all third-graders were required to take the reading test. I got to see first-hand how nervous and upset my own child was about taking the test and worrying about whether he would do well, or be held back while his friends went on to the fourth grade. We certainly weren’t the only family that was dealing with that anxiety—it played out in schools all over the state. What about children who really are good readers, but blow this single test? While the goal of improving reading skills is important for student success, clearly a lot of people felt like there needed to be greater flexibility within the Reading Sufficiency Act.

Fortunately, the Senate has approved legislation to modify the RSA. The major change is the decision to hold a child back won’t depend on a single high-stakes test at the end of the year. If a student has passed a reading screening at any time during the third grade year, they will qualify for promotion to the fourth grade. Also for this school year and the next, a third grade student that could have been held back can be promoted if a reading proficiency team recommends it and continues to oversee the student’s performance.

I certainly agree that reading is the foundation for success, not only in school but throughout a person’s life, and I believe we should do everything we can to improve reading skills for Oklahoma students. The changes I supported can help us do a better job of making sure children are gaining the reading skills they need while giving local schools, teachers and parents greater input and control.

Thanks again for reading my “Senate Review.” If you have any questions on a legislative matter, please do not hesitate to contact my Senate office at the Capitol by calling (405) 521-5555 or writing me with your concerns at: Senator Sean Burrage, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd. Rm. 537, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK 73105. I always enjoy hearing from my constituents and consider it an honor to be your voice in the Oklahoma State Senate. May God bless each of you.