Local: Education

Effort to hold back poorly-reading D.C. third-graders stalls

By |
Local,DC,Education,Alan Blinder,D.C. Council,Vincent Gray,David Catania

Confronted with unflinching and potent opposition, a D.C. councilman on Tuesday abandoned his "emergency" effort to require the city's third-grade students to prove their reading skills before they could move on to the fourth grade.

"We have a crisis in the city," at-large Councilman Vincent Orange said. "If we continue doing the same thing over and over again, we're going to continue getting the same results."

Orange's proposal, an emergency measure that did not meander through the typical legislative process and would have been law for 90 days, called for students in kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade to take annual standardized tests to evaluate their reading proficiency. Students with unacceptable scores at the end of third grade would have not been promoted to fourth grade.

But facing resistance from Mayor Vincent Gray and key lawmakers, Orange agreed to withdraw his legislation moments after he warned of a faltering school system.

Orange, who acknowledged it was unlikely lawmakers would have approved his bill, later said his decision to pull his proposal was a bid for greater discussion, not a sign of surrender.

"There's now going to be a big hearing on the subject matter," Orange said. "It's part of the legislative process."

But the measure's foes, including at-large Councilman David Catania, said they were pleased with its demise.

"I don't believe a piecemeal approach on an emergency basis is the most thoughtful way to address what has been systemic failure," said Catania, the chairman of the council's education committee. "We need to take our time and look at what the evidence suggests works."

And Catania said he believed Orange's proposal was little more than a publicity ploy.

"The way in which this was approached was not a guarantee to actually get results," Catania said. "It was a guarantee to get attention."

Catania was not alone in his opposition. In a letter on Tuesday, Gray warned that the proposal's $62 million cost made it untenable.

"The goals of ensuring a high-quality curriculum and ongoing assessments of academic progress must be part of our ongoing efforts," Gray wrote to lawmakers. "Nevertheless, considering the fiscal impact and the repetition of existing programs and services, I cannot support this legislation."

Orange introduced similar, permanent legislation in January, and that measure could still receive lawmakers' approval as they continue to grapple with low reading scores in D.C. schools.

Reading proficiency among the District's third-graders fell slightly in 2012, when only 40.5 percent of those students could read at grade level.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner