Debate Over State-Ordered Third Grade Retention Continues

Date posted - April 18, 2016

Des Moines, Iowa — As the 2016 legislative session winds down, lawmakers and the governor are debating not only WHEN but even IF third graders who are poor readers should be forced to repeat the third grade.
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A 2012 law calls for third graders to repeat the grade if they are poor readers, but the policy wasn’t scheduled to go into effect until 2017. Senator Rita Hart, a Democrat from Wheatland, doesn’t want it to happen next year either. She says “state-ordered retention” is wrong.

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo who is dyslexic, cried during a speech on the senate floor as he talked about being forced to repeat the fourth grade.

Dotzler and others say it’s too late to wait to intervene when a student who reaches the end of third grade cannot read well. A bipartisan committee of House and Senate members last week voted to delay until 2018 the requirement of summer school for lagging third grade readers, because there’s no money in the budget for it. That means no third grader in Iowa would be forced to repeat third grade until the fall of 2018 if legislators get their way.

Governor Terry Branstad doesn’t want to wait. “We made a commitment in 2012 to really strengthen our efforts to help all kids learn how to read before they leave third grade,” Branstad says. “This is kind of the last step and we need to continue to move forward with it as expeditiously as possible.” Tests last fall found nearly 25 percent of Iowa third graders cannot read at grade level.

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