Editor, Daily Press:
As a reading specialist in Oklahoma since 1992 and an educator since 1985, I have seen much change in education. I have seen programs and trends come and go. Some were good, some were great, and some were just downright ridiculous. The third-grade retention law in 2011 falls in the latter category. The developmental and cognitive issues are deep and individual, and cannot be blanketed or exempted easily.
How I wish Gov. Mary Fallin and State Superintendent Barissi could have seen the anxiety and raw fear on the faces of our third-graders before, during and after the OCCT tests. I wish they could have sat in on the Reading Sufficiency meetings with parents of our kindergarten through third graders as we explained the retention law and the six “good cause” exemptions. In the meetings there were tears and fears about what would happen to these 8- and 9-year olds. And, I wish they could have seen the hard work and determination of the all of our K-3 teachers, tutors and administrators over the past several years, not just the last year with this looming “threat.”
As the teachers and I passed out the test in April we saw the tears fall and the little bodies squirming in chairs. We looked at each child and told them with words and with our eyes, “You’ve got this. You’ve worked hard all year and no matter what, if you do your best you are a winner.”
The day before our school was to let our for summer break, I went into the third-grade classroom to hand out letters that explained that we would call all parents the next day when we received the test scores. The letter stated that we would be prepared to meet with parents of any student who did not pass the test. As I simply told the students that this letter was information about the third-grade test scores, all of the 20 students looked toward me with furrowed brows and anxious looks usually reserved for serious trauma and fear.
Well, what a victory for the students of the state of Oklahoma two weeks ago as the ridiculous retention law was amended and our state legislation overturned Governor Fallin’s veto of HB 2526, which would allow for a committee including parents, teachers, reading specialists and administrators to decide what would truly be best for each individual child who scored unsatisfactory on the OCCT exam, whether retention in third grade or promotion to fourth grade. What an amazing and plain ole common sense decision! Let’s allow those who work with the child and know them individually decide what steps are best for them.
When I heard on the news that the bill would pass I cried with relief and joy for children and parents all over our fine state. Then I heard Governor Fallin’s comments that she felt that it was a sad day in the state of Oklahoma and that she thought this bill was just “setting our children up for failure.”
My message to Gov. Fallin would be this: It is my humble opinion that the original retention law began the process of setting our children up for failure. My disappointment in our governor and our state superintendent is palpable.
As a fellow Republican, it is my understanding that one of the main platforms in our party is that of “smaller government.” In other words, I thought that the stance was that our government should pass laws which protect its citizens, improve our lives and trust us, as citizens and highly trained professionals, to do what was best for our fellow Oklahomans (our children and their parents).
In my opinion (and this is an opinion column), I cannot for the life of me see how this “blanket” law about what our leaders perceived as “no social promotion,” where possible life-changing decisions were taken out of the hands of parents and educators, could remotely be seen as “smaller government” or trust in us as citizens and professionals.
I have been following the story since the bill came before the Oklahoma House and Senate. In fact, I have been more politically involved in the last school year since I began teaching 29 years ago. I have called and written my state representatives and senators. I, along with all of my colleagues where I teach, rallied with tens of thousands of other educators in the state on March 31.
We rallied because we were saying with one accord, “Help us! Please fully fund Oklahoma’s schools. Bless our children with the resources we need to meet all expectations and mandates. Please make decisions based on what is truly best for all children, especially the hard-working third graders across the state.”
The entire faculty of my school squeezed into our senator’s small office that day asking how he stood on all of the House Bills hitting the floor. We spoke of accountability and trust. We told our senator that we would all be watching and waiting to see how he voted on each of the bills. We did and will continue to do so.
I end this letter with a glimmer of hope as I think about the bipartisan votes which have, at least for a time, altered futures and overcome a leadership which appears to not truly have its children’s best interest in mind.
As we prepare to vote for our state superintendent and our governor, be sure that we, as educators and citizens, will be pondering the past few years. We will remember and we will vote our minds, hearts and consciences.
Post Script: As it turns out, each of our third graders passed the OCCT test. Phones calls were made; tears fell from teachers, parents and students.
Editor, Daily Press:
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