The latest nutty education bill in our Unicameral is LB651; a priority bill of Senator Lou Ann Linehan that, so far, has not gotten out of Committee and that has absolutely no credible research backing it up. LB651 basically says that if third-graders aren’t reading at grade level, based upon the results of the third grade NeSA reading test they will flunk third grade and have to repeat it. While there are some exceptions, the exceptions leave little wiggle room, for teachers. The degree of micromanagement of our elementary schools to implement this rule is huge and simply illustrates how bad the whole concept is.

The bill is based upon a very casual observation about reading that says, “a child learns to read up to third grade and after that reads to learn.” A very generalized observation that has been terribly misinterpreted and taken way out of context by ignorant or hateful legislators.

This one size fits all bill simply ignores the fact that children learn at different speeds. Some 3rd graders (9- or 10-year-olds) will be reading at fifth grade level while others are at first grade level simply based upon socioeconomic factors, maturity and a myriad of other factors. Teachers understand this and teach accordingly. LB651 unfortunately demands that all 3rd graders must be at or above the same level on the date the NeSA test is administered.

Georgia recently adopted such a nonsensical law. I have 2 grandchildren in Georgia that have gone through the fear and trauma of the prospect of being held back and losing the friends they have made over their last 4 years of school. In both cases these children are in affluent suburban Atlanta schools and are in advanced programs and passed the 3rd grade tests rather easily. And in each case, they learned to hate school because of the fear leveled on them over the last 4 years about having to pass this test or flunk.

The research is clear, except in special cases, the results of flunking a child rarely results in learning, only in reinforcing the self-image of being “dumb.” This is the reason that teachers and principals take so much time and consultation before doing this to a child. Teachers work with the child in all subjects (not just one as this bill suggests.) The teacher knows the parents to some degree and has some knowledge of the home life of the child and of discipline issues. They consult with teachers in earlier grades and with others that might have impute such as special education and English language learner teachers. The decision to hold a child back is not made lightly since it has so much impact on a student’s self-image. LB651 basically looks at one number created on one day and leaves the teacher and principal with few options.

Let’s look at an example from Florida, where such a policy has been in place for a long time.

Fourth-graders in the NAEP reading test scored as follows (ranking among states):

Nebraska 227, Florida 227 (both tied for 10th place among the states)

Eighth-graders scored as follows (ranking among states):

Nebraska 269 (9th place) while Florida scored at 263 (31st place)

In the Florida fourth grade results the poor readers were held back, so the Florida fourth-graders were only readers at grade level. Yet Nebraska did as well as they did without this culling of poor readers. By eighth grade we see that Nebraska is well above Florida and any gain from this flunking of third-graders was totally lost in Florida and maybe contributed to the poor showing in Florida.

This bill would have a disproportionate impact on children living in poverty and those that are still learning English and would have minimal impact on this senator’s wealthy district.

I pray the Education Committee or the full Unicameral will kill this nutty bill.

Bert Peterson is a retired actuary who lives in Hastings.

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