By CHRISTINE SCALORA
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Parents and education groups voiced their opposition Tuesday to a bill that would keep third-graders from moving on if they don’t meet reading standards.
The measure, authored by Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, was presented to the Education Committee at a hearing. Also known as the Working to Improve Nebraska School Act, the bill would end the policy of social promotion, which is advancing students regardless of their educational attainment and keeping students with their age group.
Reading at third grade is so fundamental because it’s when you start reading to learn, Lautenbaugh said. According to the most recent State of the Schools report, 77 percent of Nebraska third graders are proficient in reading.
The Nebraska State Education Association opposes the bill as it is currently written, said Jay Sears, who was representing the group. Not all students come to school ready to learn, and each child progresses at a different rate, Sears said. The association does not want the state mandating retention for any student not at grade level.
The bill would require school districts to develop an accelerated reading intervention program for kindergarten through third graders who are deficient in reading. Students would receive an individual reading improvement program within 30 days of identifying their reading deficiency and be screened at least three times a year until they are no longer deficient.
Under the bill, students would still move on to the fourth grade if they qualify for an exemption, such as demonstrating they meet the reading standards through a portfolio of work samples. Students would not be held back more than two years.
John Bonaiuto, representing the Nebraska Association of school Boards and the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, said the bill has “a lot of change all at once,’’ and noted that there is a bill addressing how to help certain low-performing schools that should be considered, too.
Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, represented by Jon Habben on Tuesday, disagrees with the retention clause, but supports the reading initiatives.
“You don’t do anything without knowing how to read,’’ he said. “You don’t do math without knowing how to read.’’
A former state board of education member testified in support of the bill and two people testified in a neutral position.
Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, a member of the education committee, said issues with reading in third grade wouldn’t be an issue if there was investment in pre-kindergarten.
Lautenbaugh, whose bill would also create a grading system for school performance and alternative teacher certification, called the legislation is a major piece of reform and said there’s no reason to wait.
“It’s not just a business delay, it’s a failure of children,’’ he said.