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Oklahoma's Test-Based Retention Policy for 3rd Graders Scuttled by Lawmakers

By guest blogger Liana Heitin. Cross-posted from Curriculum Matters.

In Oklahoma, thousands of students will now be able to move from 3rd to 4th grade despite having failed a state standardized reading test.

The state legislature voted May 21 to overturn Republican Gov. Mary Fallin's veto of a bill that relaxed reading requirements, reports The OklahomanThe veto override passed 79-17 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate, to lawmakers' applause and cheers, according to the paper. Republicans hold a majority in both legislative chambers.

The Sooner State adopted a policy two years ago saying that 3rd graders would be held back if they scored "unsatisfactory" on the state reading exam. The policy had several exceptions—students could still advance if they scored well on an alternative test, demonstrated grade-level reading through a portfolio, or had received reading remediation for two or more years. 

The mandate was supposed to go into effect this year. However, it received pushback from state lawmakers who said parents and teachers should be able to decide whether a child advances. The legislature passed an opposing bill to loosen the requirements, which the governor vetoed this week, saying in a statement, "Promoting [students] to fourth grade without the basic tools they need to succeed is not just unwise; it is immoral."

The legislature's action this week means that 8,000 students who flunked the state reading test can still be promoted if a team of parents, teachers, administrators, and a reading specialist decide they should move on.

Oklahoma is one of several states to have adopted retention policies for 3rd graders. One such policy took effect in Florida in 2002-03 and has served as a model for policies in other states, including Arizona, Indiana, and Ohio.

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