Bill to end social promotion in schools clears state panel

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A panel of New Mexico lawmakers voted Tuesday to keep children from moving into the fourth grade if they're not proficient readers.

The House Education Committee voted 7-6 along party lines — with Republicans in the majority — to approve the legislation backed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The bill now heads to a full vote in the House of Representatives.

Martinez's plan to end social promotion faces opposition from Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who says student retention should be based on teachers' assessments, not test scores.

The bill by Rep. Monica Youngblood calls for retaining third-graders who are not reading proficiently and giving them intensive remediation. The legislation adds that kindergartners through second-graders might also be held back if struggling with reading.

"I hope my colleagues and others will ... look at it as a bill that identifies our struggling students and gives them the targeted intervention they need," Youngblood said after the vote.

The Albuquerque Republican said New Mexico fourth-graders rank near the bottom nationally in reading proficiency.

Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, who voted against the bill, asked why the law had to be changed to use already available intervention tools. Youngblood said current practices aren't working.

More than a dozen speakers, including parents, educators and education union leaders, testified against the bill saying retention damages a child socially and intervention should be the focus.

Stacy Burkman, a Santa Fe mother of four, told the committee her daughter was not reading at third-grade level but she read with her every night to help her catch up. She said the psyche of her child would have been damaged if she had been retained automatically.

Those in favor of the bill, including business leaders and educators, told the House panel the legislation is a last resort bill that will help students succeed.

"If third-graders are not prepared to read, I think it's a mistake to push them on," setting them up to fail, said Jed Fanning, a board member of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

Youngblood's bill calls for intervention and remediation programs to kick in with the 2015-16 school year, and grade promotion and retention decisions to be made starting in 2016-2017.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., require the retention of third-grade students who do not meet grade-level expectations in reading, according to the Education Commission of the States, a non-partisan group that tracks state policy trends.

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