Denver Gem & Mineral

Literacy bill gains preliminary approval in House



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March 28, 2012 | 12:21 PM
House Bill 12-1238, addressing student literacy from kindergarten through third grade, received preliminary approval from the Colorado House on March 20.

The House voted 51-12 to pass the bill. On March 21, several members discussed whether the program would be adequately funded, and if the money would be better spent expanding preschool to more students and full-day kindergarten.

State Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, said the latter would be more effective, but the bill is a move in the right direction.

"I voted for it because we cannot wait until third grade to find children who need intensive instruction as early as kindergarten," she said.

The primary sponsors of the bill are Reps. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and Millie Hamner, D-Summit County. An amendment by Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, was to exempt children with reading-related learning disabilities from retention. The bill also exempts some children with other disabilities and those who don't speak English as their first language.

Other issues raised concerning the bill include its cost and financial burden on schools, as well as whether or not the parent or superintendent should decide if a student should be retained.

Schafer believes it should be the parent's choice. Currently the bill states that it is the superintendent's choice, but that could change now that the bill has been passed to the Senate.

"Being held back is not the worst thing that can happen," Schafer said.

According to Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson, the district is undecided about the bill.

"We've taken a neutral position, but we support literacy, of course," Stevenson said.

The number is not exact yet, but Stevenson estimated implementing the bill would cost Jeffco $1 million if new assessments were needed to track student progress in the primary grades, and for additional teacher training.

"What we train teachers in is strategies for instruction," she said.

She said the school district aims to see 80 percent, or better, of students reading at grade level or above by third grade. About 15 percent will need strategic intervention to get to grade-level reading, and 5 percent will need intensive intervention.

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