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Colorado Literacy Bill Sparks Debate On Flunking Kids

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Gov. John Hickenlooper during testimony at the Capitol on March 12, 2012. (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper during testimony at the Capitol on March 12, 2012. (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – After touching testimony from Colorado’s governor about his boyhood struggles with dyslexia, a legislative committee signed off Monday on a proposal to recommend flunking young kids who fall far behind on reading.

The House Education Committee voted 10-3 to overhaul Colorado literacy requirements from kindergarten through third grade and sets up a statewide standard on grade retention. Currently, grade-retention decisions are local.

The bill would require retention recommendations for students who do poorly on reading assessments. By third grade, students rated “seriously deficient” in reading would not be allowed to enter fourth grade without a recommendation from the school superintendent.

The bill passed after heartfelt testimony from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who told the panel that he flunked seventh grade and struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia as a boy.

“I was great at math, but for whatever reason I had a very hard time putting words together,” Hickenlooper said. Talking about repeating seventh grade, Hickenlooper said, “I’m not immune to the trauma that retention involves.”

Hickenlooper and other supporters spoke about the importance of reading to learn early, and rattled off alarming statistics about the academic futures of pupils who don’t read adequately by fourth grade.

The measure is controversial, though. Opponents argued that while literacy education is paramount, the new literacy assessments would do little but burden schools with burdensome reports and red tape.

“Don’t add another level of paperwork, just let us teach,” said Kristi Frazier, a reading interventionist at an elementary school in Fort Morgan.

Aurora School Board President Matt Cook criticized the bill’s requirement that principals sit in on certain meetings with parents. Cook said that requirement could leave overworked administrators in some schools with hundreds of additional meetings a year.

Cook also pointed out that schools have been hit with years of budget cuts and wouldn’t be given more money to comply with the literacy requirements.

“Funding must be put in the conversation,” he said.

But Republicans who control the committee sided with Hickenlooper and business groups that argued that schools should re-prioritize to meet the requirements with existing funds.

“Why should it take more money to teach them the very basic thing, the one thing they should be getting in school?” asked Republican Rep. Carole Murray.

The bill exempts students with disabilities and modifies the assessments for students learning English. The measure now heads to another House committee before it gets to the full chamber.

By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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