OKC schools head seeks to repeal 3rd-grade reading law

Classroom (KSN File Photo)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools wants lawmakers to repeal the state’s third-grade reading law, which requires schools to hold back third-graders who score “unsatisfactory” on a mandatory state standardized test unless the students qualify for exemptions.

Superintendent Rob Neu said the Reading Sufficiency Act doesn’t serve the individual needs of children.

“We know that retention is not an effective strategy,” Neu said. “Research suggests that students who are retained have a higher probability of dropping out.”

The Oklahoman reports that statistics indicate more than 600 third-graders who failed the test were held back when school started on Aug. 4. Another 500 third-graders who scored unsatisfactory on the test qualified for exemptions and were promoted.

“The problem with intervention is, it’s viewed as punishment and we cannot punish our way to prosperity,” Neu said.

The superintendent said educators need to be more “student-focused” in their approach and evaluate students as “individualized learners” and not by “age, cohort and averages.”

Students, he added, do not learn at the same rate and in the same way.

“I would suggest that we take a look at changing the system to support students’ learning styles and learning needs,” he said. “Having them repeat third grade without changing third grade is not an intelligent solution.”

Neu’s solution would include scrapping grade-level configurations and moving students along when they have mastered a particular subject area.

“What I’m suggesting is that we take the standards in each area and move the students along by mastery of content at their individual rate,” he said. “Theoretically, a student could be at a fifth-grade reading level and third-grade math level.

“We want to design the system to target their individual needs with appropriate intervention.”

He suggested grouping students according to their academic levels, taking into account their social and emotional needs and utilizing technology to accelerate their learning through small- or large-group instruction.

Neu, who is in his third month as superintendent, said he is not proposing that the Oklahoma City school district implement such a policy.

“I am suggesting that third-grade retention is not an effective answer and we must look forward,” he said.

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