By Thomas Mitchell
A gaggle of Democrats in Carson City have proffered a bill that would gut Nevada’s Read by 3 law like a fish.
In 2015 lawmakers voted to require schools to have students who have not achieved proficiency in reading by the end of the third grade to be retained in the third grade for another year. It was modeled after a law passed in Florida in 2002 that quickly reduced fourth grade illiteracy.
The Nevada law is scheduled to take effect with the 2019-2020 school year.
When Florida’s law — dubbed Just Read, Florida — was passed the Nation’s Report Card, prepared by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (or lack thereof), showed only 27 percent of Florida fourth graders were proficient in reading, 4 points below the national rate. In 2017, 41 percent of Florida fourth graders were proficient, 4 points above the national rate.
In 2017, only 31 percent of Nevada fourth graders were proficient in reading, 7 points below the national average.
In a 2011 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Jeb Bush, who was governor of Florida when the reading bill passed, explained the rationale for the proposition, “While preparing kids for college and careers starts on the first day of kindergarten, the first good indicator of their chances for success may come in fourth grade. That is when students transition from learning to read to reading to learn. A Manhattan Institute study found that students who can’t read and yet are promoted fall further behind over time. Alarmingly, 33% of fourth-graders in America are functionally illiterate …”
Bush boasted that before the reading law was enacted fully half of Florida’s fourth-graders were functionally illiterate, but by 2011 fully 72 percent could read.
Assembly Bill 289 would emasculate Nevada’s law before it has a chance to even attempt to succeed.
First, the bill would require a parent or legal guardian to provide written consent for a pupil to be retained a grade regardless of reading proficiency.
Second, the bill would change the requirement for a pupil to be proficient to merely “performing at a level considered to be within the average range for a pupil enrolled in the same grade in which the pupil is enrolled …” The law doesn’t state whether that average is for a given class, school, county or statewide. Nor does it contemplate that at any point that “average” might actually be above the reading proficiency level. Fat chance of that if this bill passes.
In 2017 Democratic lawmakers were unsuccessful in an attempt to repeal the law outright. At the time, Gov. Brain Sandoval, an ardent backer of the original bill, put out a statement saying, “The Read by Grade 3 initiative placed nearly $30 million directly in classrooms in more than 300 schools across Nevada with a clear line of accountability and singular focus on developmental reading. The Governor will not compromise on the goal of ensuring every student in Nevada is reading at grade level by third grade.”
Facing a certain veto, the bill was never brought up for a vote. There is a Democrat in the governor’s mansion now.
Nevada’s State Board of Education this past August announced policies and standards that have already reduced the number of third graders who might be required to repeat third grade due to reading deficiency.
It was estimated at the time that 29 percent of third graders could be eligible for retention, though about half could qualify for what are called “good-cause” exemptions — for those with disabilities, English learners, ones who demonstrate reading proficiency through a portfolio of school work and those who were retained in earlier grades.
The board also adopted an alternative test for those who fail the primary test, and set the cut-off score on that test at a rather law 30th percentile.
“While initial data indicates a significant number of students may be retained in third grade, the good-cause exemptions ensure fairness in this process,” Steve Canavero, superintendent of public instruction, was quoted as saying in a press release at the time. “I can’t emphasize enough, the goal of Read by Grade 3 is not to punish anyone, rather the goal of this program is to enhance a student’s ability to read successfully — thus ensuring success throughout his/her entire academic experience.”
AB287 would greatly reduce the chance of success.