House takes punch out of third-grade reading bill

Democrats in the House took a Senate bill and made substantial changes, focusing attention on what the state should be providing to struggling students.
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Democrats in the House took a Senate bill and made substantial changes, focusing attention on what the state should be providing to struggling students.

Senate Republicans came up with an education reform bill to hold back third-graders who cannot read well. As of today, that bill is still alive in the Washington House. But the bill's Senate creators wouldn't recognize it.

Democrats on the House Education Committee drastically overhauled that bill Tuesday. They inserted several planks to upgrade the teaching of reading in grades K-3.  But they took out the part in which third graders could be held back if they cannot read at a certain level, which was the main plank of the Senate bill introduced by Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup.

"It takes the teeth out of what we were trying to do. ... The word 'retention' is not used in the bill anymore," said Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, and the ranking Republican on the House committee.

"It takes us to a comprehensive look at reading from kindergarten through the third grade," said committee member Rep. Gerald Pollet, D-Seattle.

The House Education Committee sent the massive overhauled bill to the full House 11-10, with the vote split along party lines.

Dammeier's original bill  did not allow a third grader to move to fourth grade if that student scored at the bottom grade of a four-grading-level reading test. The bill outlined some exceptions to that rule, which would have gone into effect in the 2014-2015 school year. The original bill included outlines for remedial measures. In 2015-16, schools would have been required to provide remedial measures for students scoring in the bottom two levels of that four-level grade system. The Senate passed it 35-13.

On Tuesday, House Education Committee chairwoman Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, presented her overhaul of Dammeier's bill. The revised bill:

  • Tells the Legislature that it is supposed to fund full-day kindergartens and reduced class sizes in grades K-3 — the major planks of last year's Washington Supreme Court ruling that the state is not adequately dealing with its Constitutional obligations for basic education.
  • Orders school districts to provide a system to boost reading and literacy in grades K-3. The required measures include annual screening for at-risk readers, tapping into the appropriate research, and getting outside agencies and families involved.
  • Makes the Third Grade Reading/English Language Arts Assessment an accountability measure for this effort. The effort would be required to monitor reading results in the lower grades, to develop a system to warn of at-risk readers, to have the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction work with other education interests to develop remedial measures, and to set up regular reports to the OSPI and the House and Senate education committees.

Santos compared the revised bill to the plank-stacking game of Jenga. "The strength of the Jenga tower is built on a solid foundation. When there are holes at the bottom, the greater the chances of the tower toppling," she said.

Another committee member, Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, contended that reading problems should be identified and tackled initially in kindergarten and the first grade. "If I put teeth anywhere, it would be in the first grade. ... To wait until the third grade makes no sense to me," Haigh said.

Dammeier's bill is part of a group of Senate Republican education reform bills that the upper chamber passed with the idea that reforms can shrink the $800 million to $1.4 billion estimate of what is needed to meet the Supreme Court ruling to fix the education deficiencies.

Another Senate bill assigned letter grades to schools, with a late revision that extra money go to the worst performing ones, The House Education Committee meshed that bill with another Senate bill that would  require OSPI to intervene in the 10 lowest-performing schools. The House Education Committee — with Republicans objecting — sent that modified measure to the full House on March 29.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8