|Updated: 11/04/2013 5:45 pm
||Published: 11/04/2013 2:33 pm
This is the first year Oklahoma students could be held back if they don't demonstrate they are reading at their grade level.
In April, third-graders across the state will be forced to take the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test. If their scores are unsatisfactory, they'll be retained and forced to repeat third grade, under the terms of the Reading Sufficiency Act, or S.B. 346.
Wyatt Deckard is 8 years old and a third-grader at Inola Elementary School. Because of mild dyslexia and an issue with short-term memory, he reads on a first-grade level. His mother, Jennifer Deckard, told FOX 23 she found out at Wyatt's parent-teacher conference that Wyatt will be forced to take the test with no help, and if he fails, he'll be held back.
"I believe this will make him feel like he's failed at something. We're struggling to make him understand that he's not failing, that it's something we're working on, and he's doing a really good job. I think this will crush that for him," said Deckard.
Wyatt has an Individualized Education Plan, or an IEP. The school district provides special help with reading, and school leaders and his mother tell FOX 23 he's performing at or above grade level in other subjects, yet it's likely he'll be held back.
Dr. Kent Holbrook is superintendent of Inola Public Schools. He says this law did not take into account students with learning disabilities or special needs. He finds many flaws with the law. He says it's modeled after a law enacted in Florida.
But there's a big different here. Lawmakers in Florida pumped tons of money into education, providing funding for extended school days, reading instruction on Saturdays and reading camps over thesummer -- ahead of the mandatory testing.
"Oklahoma pretty much just said, 'Here's the law. In third grade, if you don't pass the test, we're going to fail you," said Holbrook.
Holbrook says that as a consequence of the new law, schools could wind up with kids as much as four years older winding up in the same third-grade class.
He says Oklahoma educators are doing the best they can, but there's just no funding.
Since he came to Inola Schools, enrollment has grown by 100 students, but because of funding cuts, he's been forced to cut 14 teaching positions. It's a struggle to keep class sizes small, but he tells FOX 23 he prioritizes at the elementary school level.
"I know if we get big class sizes down there, those students will be suffering throughout their whole career. So the middle school and high school class sizes continue to grow," said Holbrook.
"Mentoring; transition classes; extending the school day, week, year; summer reading academies -- I'd love to provide those right now, but with fewer teachers, I don't know how we'll provide that next year," said Holbrook.