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School officials oppose Kansas governor’s plan to hold back students who can’t read

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, at 2:25 p.m.

— Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to improve fourth-grade reading by holding back third-graders who can’t read at grade-level met opposition from school district officials from Kansas City, Kan., and Topeka on Monday.

Wichita officials, meanwhile, say the money Brownback has proposed spending to improve fourth-grade reading levels would be better spent on a statewide training program that better equips teachers.

“Retention is quite an expensive strategy,” said Diane Gjerstad, a lobbyist for the Wichita school district.

Jon Hummell, Brownback’s policy director, said retention isn’t the goal of the governor’s plan. He said the governor wants to stop the social promotion of third-graders who can’t read. Brownback’s budget includes $10 million in targeted intervention programs to help students and improve kindergarten and preschool programs, he said.

“It is our sincere hope that over time the combination of these efforts will render social promotion obsolete because every Kansas child will know how to read,” Hummell wrote in testimony to the Senate Education Committee.

Julie Ford, superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, said a student from a poor family may enter kindergarten with a 400-word vocabulary, limited access to books and libraries, no preschool experience and virtually no encouragement in reading. Meanwhile, a more privileged student may enter with preschool education, loads of encouragement, books and an iPad and a 1,100-word vocabulary.

She suggested that the state consider funding full-time kindergarten and add more school days to the school year since fewer students now need summers off for farm work.

“Retention is not a good use of time,” she said.

Senate Bill 169, known as the Kansas Reads to Succeed Act, is a cornerstone of Brownback’s “roadmap” for the state. In addition to holding back third-graders who can’t read at grade level starting in 2016, the bill would identify the top 100 elementary schools for fourth-grade reading proficiency and award districts with at least one school in the top 100 with $10,000.

It’s unclear whether the Senate panel that heard testimony on the bill will vote to advance it to the Senate.

Learn more about the proposal and reactions to it from The Eagle’s prior reporting.

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