At a glance ...
• The Colorado House of Representatives is considering a bill that would put an emphasis on reading in kindergarten through third grade.
• House Bill 12-1238, also known as the Colorado Early Literacy Act, aims to ensure students reading at grade level by third grade.
• The bill recommends, but does not mandate, schools to hold back third-graders from advancing to fourth grade if they’re not reading at grade level by the end of the school year.
• Superintendent: Retention shouldn’t be the first or only solution for struggling readers.
CEA spokesman: Bill raises concerns about funding, teacher workloads
The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, supports the effort put forth in House Bill 12-1238 to get lagging readers back on track.
But the time, training and resources needed to implement the bill give its members pause, said Mike Wetzel, public relations director for the teacher’s union.
If passed, the bill would require teachers in kindergarten through third grades to identify students in their classes who are reading below grade level. They would then craft a plan, with input from the child’s parent, to get the student caught up.
The bill comes at a time when class sizes in schools across Colorado are ballooning as a result of “hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts” in recent years, Wetzel said.
“If you give teachers additional requirements and at the same time you’re increasing their class sizes, that’s a point of concern,” he said.
The bill also would require more resources—including money—to train teachers to meet the mandate of the bill, he said.
“So resources are certainly a factor,” Wetzel said.
If a third-grader falls behind in reading, should he or she be allowed to move on to the next grade?
The question is at the center of a debate concerning a proposed literacy act moving through the Colorado House of Representatives.
House Bill 12-1238, also known as the Colorado Early Literacy Act, shines a spotlight on students in kindergarten through third grade who fall behind in reading.
The bill requires schools to provide programs to ensure students are reading at grade level by the time they finish third grade.
If students are still lagging behind, the bill recommends but does not require schools to hold them back a year.
The bill points to reading as a “foundational skill” necessary for academic success but also highlights other reasons to focus on literacy.
“A comprehensive approach to early literacy education can improve student achievement, reduce the need for costly special education services, and produce a better educated, more skilled and more competitive workforce,” the draft bill states.
Joe Petrone, Moffat County School District superintendent, was cautious in commenting on the bill Tuesday. It’s early days yet, he said, and the bill could still change.
Still, he acknowledged that retention, or holding a student back, is a hot-button issue.
One view is that retention stigmatizes students socially, emotionally and academically, he said.
“And then people on the other end of the extreme say, ‘Well, at some point we’ve got to get kids reading, and this is a wake-up call for schools and parents that some of our children are not reading at the level that they should,’” he said.
Petrone said he can see both sides of the issue but believes holding students back shouldn’t be the first or only solution.
Reading is a crucial skill, but “every situation is different because every child is different,” he said.
Instead, schools should be allowed to explore all other options, like early interventions, before retention even becomes an issue, the superintendent said.
The Colorado Education Association holds the same view.
“What we say … is that you need to treat each child individually,” said Mike Wetzel, public relations director for the teacher’s union. “You just can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to children.”
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