The Edmond Sun

February 17, 2014

OUR VIEW: Don’t wait to improve reading

The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — One state representative wants to hold off implementing The Oklahoma Reading Sufficiency Act until more funding for the education reform is put in place by the Legislature.

Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, has filed legislation to that effect and he plans to talk this week about his plan to fund more reading coaches in public schools during Dyslexia Awareness Day at the Capitol organized by Decoding Dyslexia-Oklahoma and the Payne Education Center.

If nothing changes, this spring’s third-graders will be the first group of schoolchildren to feel the effects of the law authored by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. Those who are not reading at grade level after the spring reading tests and who do not meet one of the six criteria for exemption will be required to repeat the third grade and try again.

While we understand there are as many circumstances as there are individual children impacted by this legislation, one fact remains unchanged. Reading is an absolutely integral skill in order to survive in our society. To navigate today’s world filled with electronics and more information available than ever before in mankind’s history, reading at least at a third-grade level is a required life skill set.

There are too many issues to list here that contribute to reading insufficiency among our youth, but poverty is an overriding factor for many families across the state.

Reading is a habit that must be developed and it really doesn’t matter what a parent or guardian reads to a child as long as they show that reading in some capacity is important.

Perhaps the most unfortunate part of this issue is the incredibly negative reaction by many in education leadership to the reading sufficiency law. The reaction typically has been that the law simply won’t work, that there’s not enough funding to make it work and on and on. It’s disappointing to hear those education experts not offer any tangible solutions to the problem that too many of our third-graders are not reading at grade level.

But the truth is that delaying reform is not a viable solution. Delaying the setting of a new standard in Oklahoma education does nothing more than keep the status quo. It offers those children falling into the cracks no way out. While Rep. Shelton is probably right that more specially trained reading coaches are necessary, putting off the reform does not help this year’s third-graders who are struggling to read.

Educators and parents of these children have been on notice for almost two years that this was coming. They’ve had time to prepare and time to evaluate each child’s situation. And the state has given six exemption possibilities covering a variety of reading problems including dyslexia that will allow those struggling third graders to keep moving forward in their education.

The Reading Sufficiency Act is not without a heart and neither are the legislators and education leaders who put this reform forward. In fact, this reform is really one of the most heartfelt acts we’ve seen come out of the Legislature in a long time. Someone finally cared enough about our children to put in a place a standard for reading. Any parenting guru will tell you that having standards and expectations is the hallmark of someone who cares. We want educators, legislators and parents to care enough to see this through and help all of our children read to the best of their ability. Our state will be better off in the future if we stick with the Reading Sufficiency Act now.