HB 12-1238 Ensuring K-3 Literacy Education (Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee)
Ensuring K-3 Literacy Education
House Bill 12-1238
Testimony to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee
Frank Waterous, Senior Policy Analyst
April 25, 2012
My name is Frank Waterous, and I am senior policy analyst with the Bell Policy Center. The Bell is a non-partisan, non-profit research and policy organization founded on progressive values and dedicated to expanding opportunity for all Coloradans.
The Bell Policy Center supports House Bill 12-1238, "Ensuring K-3 Literacy Education." To be clear, our position on the bill has changed from "Amend" when it was being considered by the House, based on changes made in that chamber to soften its language and recommendations regarding student retention. However, we remain cautious in this support because the overwhelming research evidence clearly indicates that retention is not a sustainable long-term solution for helping more students succeed. Further, if the bill's language were to return to its former, stronger emphasis on retention, we would need to reconsider our support. We have had the opportunity to briefly review amendment L.043, which you will be considering today. Based on this review, we believe the amendment moves the bill in a positive direction, and we support it.
Let me start by emphasizing what we consider to be the bill's strengths. The bill clearly addresses a pressing problem in Colorado's education system. Getting more students on track toward reading proficiency in the early grades is crucial. In fact, we think that it is so important that we made it one of the "Gateways to Opportunity" that defines the Bell's work.[i] Recently, we published a brief [ii] that highlights the gaps in third-grade reading proficiency both at the state and national levels, and we believe strongly that this bill is focused on the right problem.
We support many of the bill's key components. HB 1238 is comprehensive, collaborative and intervention-driven. It brings together parents, educators and specialists to address the individualized needs of students who are falling behind in kindergarten through third grade. We especially believe that the READ plans and the focus on multiple assessments and interventions reflect a comprehensive approach toward getting more students on track.
However, our support for the bill is tempered by the clear message from the research evidence that retention is not associated with positive educational outcomes, and that any decision to legislate additional retention processes should be undertaken with caution. Research focused on both the short- and long-term effects of retention on students' educational outcomes suggests that retention does not help them succeed.[iii] Especially in studies of "retention-plus" programs such as that envisioned in HB 1238 (that is, programs including both retention and additional interventions), it has proven very difficult for researchers to disentangle the effects attributable to retention from those associated with the other interventions provided to the student.[iv] And most troubling of all is that the effect of retention-plus policies on later high school dropout rates - one of the biggest risks of traditional retention-only policies - is currently unknown.
As a result of these concerns, we recommend that you and the sponsors consider two changes that we believe would strengthen the legislation:
First, we believe that parents should always be provided with full information on both the potential positive and negative effects of retention so that they can make informed decisions about whether such an option is the best choice for their child. Adding language to HB 1238 explicitly ensuring that this balanced information is readily available to parents would strengthen the bill.
Second, as noted in a policy brief released by the Bell Policy Center today,[v] the research is consistent in finding that struggling students, whether promoted or retained, benefit from intensive, evidence-based interventions to improve their literacy skills. HB 1238 provides this additional support to students in kindergarten through third grade. However, it is unclear to us whether third-graders who are promoted to fourth grade, despite having a significant reading deficiency, will have access to the services provided to retained third-graders. Because it is the interventions that make the difference, adding language to the bill explicitly stating that these services should be made available to such students promoted to fourth-grade, as well, would help Colorado achieve its goals for improved student reading proficiency and ultimately, graduation.
Of course, even the best policies can succeed only if the necessary resources are provided to ensure that they can be implemented effectively. We are pleased that amendment L.043 addresses this issue and provides additional funding to support the programs and services created by the bill.
In closing, the Bell Policy Center believes that HB 1238 contains many provisions and intervention strategies that will benefit students and help them attain reading proficiency. We remain cautious, however, about the role that student retention will play in achieving the bill's intended outcomes. As always, we stand ready to work with all those involved so that more students can succeed in building a solid base for literacy – the foundation of all future learning.
We thank you for the opportunity to share this information, and also thank Senators Johnston and Spence for bringing this important bill to you today. If you have any questions, or if I can provide further information, please call me at 303-297-0456 or email me at email@example.com.
1 The Bell Policy Center's third Gateway to Opportunity is "Building a Solid Base for Literacy."
[ii] Maitland, M. (Feb. 2, 2012). Data shows large gaps in reading ability of Colorado third-graders. The Bell Policy Center,
[iii] Jimerson, S.R. (2001). Meta-analysis of grade retention research: Implications for practice in the 21st century. School psychology review, 30(3), 420-437; Jimerson, S. R., Anderson, G. E., & Whipple, A. (2002). Winning the battle and losing the war: Examining the relation between grade retention and dropping out of high school. Psychology in Schools, 39(4), 441-457; Shepard, L.A., & Baca, L.M. (2012). Research findings on grade retention. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.
[iv] Maitland, M. and Moreno, Amanda, Ph.D. (April 24, 2012). Retention and literacy: What the research says. The Bell Policy Center, http://bellpolicy.org/sites/default/files/Third-gradeRetention.pdf.
[v] Maitland, M. and Moreno, Amanda, Ph.D.