Iowa lawmakers ending summer reading initiative

Third-grade retention also scrapped

The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — State lawmakers are pulling the plug on a state-mandated summer reading program for struggling third-graders — a program that already had been delayed and moved back to 2018.

The 2018 education budget bill also removes the controversial retention requirement that would have required third-graders to meet a certain reading level before advancing to fourth grade.

Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, said majority Republicans were striking the summer reading program because “it was an unfunded mandate” that the Legislature put on school districts.

Also, he said, results from summer reading trial programs — one in his hometown — produced mixed results.

Kraayenbrink, co-chair of the House-Senate education budget subcommittee, said he believes Iowa Reading Research Center director Deborah Reed has made gains by identifying areas where Iowa has been lacking in its reading instruction. But he said legislators felt it was time to eliminate the retention language.

Reed has said the reading program did affirm that summer school is an effective way to prevent students’ loss of skills over the summer. Every teaching method helped students maintain the reading skills they already had, which Reed said emphasizes the importance of building reading skills during the school year.

“I hope we’re seeing the low in our deficit in reading levels, due to now starting our younger generation out reading in a different way than maybe we were teaching them before,” Kraayenbrink told reporters after the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 12-7 to pass the budget bill minus the literacy program.

“We still cannot forget the ones that can’t read, I understand that,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of success in that trial that we did put money privately and publicly in. I feel that for us to put out an unfunded mandate to our public school system is not the right way to handle this.”

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the state needs to help school districts bolster their reading programs, given than about 25 percent of third-graders are not reading at grade level and need support during the summer months.

“The good news is the bill repeals the third-grade retention language that we have in place where, if you’re not reading at grade level, we’re going to hold you back, which we think is a disaster for those kids,” Bolkcom said.

“So that’s gone, but at the same time as we know many of our youngsters have difficulty reading in third grade, we’re not providing the support, and there’s no more important thing to be able to do than to read,” he said. “We’re going backward on that. We don’t need to be going backward, but we’ve made policy choices that have put too much money in these tax giveaway piles and not nearly enough in the basic things that people expect us to do, like a good public education system.”

Staci Hupp, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education, said the department will continue to focus “on the prevention and intervention components of the law, which means identifying struggling readers early on and putting in place strategies to get them back on track. The ability to read is absolutely critical to students’ success in school and in life.”

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