Literacy reform deserves serious discussions


Today, the House Education Committee may revisit HB 93, the Academic Success through Remediation Act. And today, almost half of the state’s third-graders, more than half of its fourth-graders, and almost half of its fifth-graders can’t read at grade level.

Those numbers need to be front and center during any education discussion in the Roundhouse, as do the details of the 12-page bill, which as filed focuses on intensive remediation at the end of kindergarten, first and second grades to ensure most students are proficient readers.

Yes, the bill includes retention for the small number of students who cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade. But retention is limited to one time and there are numerous exceptions, including:

• Scoring proficient on the standards-based assessment after attending summer school,

• Showing proficiency on an alternative test or teacher-developed portfolio,

• Displaying sufficient academic growth that has the student on track for proficiency per Public Education Department benchmarks,

• Demonstrating proficiency in a language other than English,

• Having a disability and an Individualized Education Plan that addresses promotion and retention,

• Being retained already in K-2, and

• Having a parent petition for social promotion if the student has not been habitually truant and has participated in all required remediation.

To that last point, parents can ask that a teacher advance a student who can’t read what his/her peers can, as long as the student has shown up and tried and the parents have signed off on a clear plan of action for the next grade.

Is that setting the bar too high? Providing intensive — and as important, varied — remediation for four years, then expecting students at minimum to show up and participate for a pass when it hasn’t worked?

Absolutely not. Because even the biggest rock star of a teacher can’t teach an empty desk.

And is expecting New Mexico’s children to read at grade level expecting too much?

Again, absolutely not. Look no further than how Rio Grande and Highland high schools raised expectations and their graduation rates at the same time.

HB 93 is sponsored by Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces, who has serious credentials in the area of literacy as a (now retired) front-line teacher, principal and administrator since the 1960s. She didn’t have to bone up on the state’s problem of kids who can’t read — she lived it for three decades in the Gadsden and Las Cruces districts.

Her Senate colleague, retired businesswoman Sen. Mary Kay Papen, also a Las Cruces Democrat, is sponsoring mirror bill SB 45.

The HB 93/SB 45 literacy reform deserves serious committee discussions to address any remaining issues regarding definitions, and then “do pass” votes on the floors of each chamber.

New Mexico can, should and must do better by its children and ensure they can read at grade level.

— Albuquerque Journal


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